Written by: C.S. Pacat
Art by: Johanna the Mad, Joana Lafuente, Jim Campbell
Published by: BOOM! Studios
Release Date: November 15 2017
I have never read a lot of manga, or watched a lot of anime, but recently I developed a strong, undying love for Yuri!!! on Ice. As fans of that show know very well, there is a hole in our hearts that only Season 2 can fill. Well, fear not! Fence #1 is here, a shining light to fulfill all your adorable sports manga dreams, with enough American comic flare and an all-ages vibe that makes it accessible for any reader.
Fence introduces a rivalry almost immediately, which seems to be the core plot of this arc. Nicholas Cox, a fencer with little money but a lot of heart, faces Seiji Katayama, an experienced fencer with a big reputation and an even bigger ego. The classic combo of locker room bullying and Nicholas trying to prove himself against his peers feels familiar, but adding in the prep school feel and centering the conflict around the underrepresented sport of fencing makes this story feel new and original.
This introductory issue is packed with exposition and focuses on several story threads. Instead of feeling confusing or overwrought, the different plot lines flow together to make for a thorough, interesting introduction that leaves a hook for readers to pick up the second issue. Seeing Nicholas’s past through well-integrated, poignant flashbacks, juxtaposed with scenes form the present competition, frames the introduction to the series and sets up the character interactions just enough to hook readers into the new series. The foreshadowing and hints at future elements of the story are intriguing and strategically placed, making this first issue an excellent introduction to the fun new series.
The art perfectly suits this comic and theme. Johanna the Mad is a mad genius in terms of art, and the illustrations truly augment and enhance every scene of this comic. Wide, scene-setting panels and sharp angles add to the manga feel, and clean, even lines help the book flow smoothly and elegantly through the changing scenes and settings of the book.
Fencing is neither a fast sport nor a long one, so illustrating fencing scenes as a huge component of the issue is a challenge for even the best artist. In Fence, it is handled beautifully. Elegant scenes frame moments of the match, interspersed with flashbacks, though sequences and narration that elongate the match. The lines of movement and clear research that went into creating these scenes is impeccable and striking.
The coloring, by Joana Lafuente, is wonderful. Light, pastel tones add to the beauty and grace of the fencing scenes and draws the focus to the main characters. Lafuente plays with lighting in a way that makes everything seem bright and striking. The change in color palette that accompanies the flashback scenes enhances the flow of the book, and the light sepia tones of newspapers and visions of the past provides a stark contrast to the brighter colors of the present.
Jim Campbell is on the lettering for Fence, and it is impeccable as always. The flashback scenes, newspapers, and balancing the lettering with the sparse fencing scenes all provide lettering challenges, but everything reads and flows perfectly.
Johanna the Mad and C.S. Pacat created this book together, and everything feels like a perfect partnership. The vision for this comic is very clear, and it has a strong voice. Fence fills a necessary gap in comics, because comics with positive representations of younger men being friends is so sparse in the comics industry. It was refreshing to see a variety of skin tones and genders within the fencing cast, and it seems that the character interactions will only expand and evolve in future issues. If I had one real complaint, it would be that they all have perfect, beautiful hair that sets unreal standards for real-world hair expectations. Seriously, everything about this book is gorgeous.
If you are into sports manga, love comics about strong relationships and overcoming odds, or have a younger reader in your life who would appreciate a good story, Fence #1 is the perfect place to jump in. This is a strong comic with a clear path, and a story that appeals to a wide audience of readers. If you are looking for something new, give fence a try, it won’t disappoint.
The Verdict: 10/10