Review: Karl Stephan’s ‘Sparko’ Takes You on a Strange Trip Through London Underground
Sometimes it takes a hours of hunting to uncover a few hidden treasures to share here at the clubhouse. Other times, a rare find falls right in my lap. SPARKO* – written and illustrated by Karl Stephan – is one of those finds that found me. A bizarrely original story, Sparko follows a drug-addicted rock star (Norman) through an odyssey of self-destruction and discovery in the otherworldly Walled Kingdom, a sort of mirror universe of London.
Norman is far from alone on his existential journey. Stephan takes great care in populating the Kingdom with plenty of interesting characters, each whom come with multiple layers of subtext that add new depth to the story. While this can be entertaining (Jim Morrison as the face of God!) it can also cause things to become a bit confusing for those not familiar with England’s subculture (Margaret Thatcher as Boudicca aka Britannica, the physical manifestation of the British Empire). In particular, Norman’s companion – the pickpocket Belle – and her “working spook” Tom provide an equal blend of light-hearted moments and emotional high points.
Regardless of subtext, the overall narrative of Sparko is highly enjoyable as a tribe of changelings (modern-day goblins) plot to resurrect an ancient demon previously vanquished by St. Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th Century. Toss in a few more ghosts, a homicidal gang of grannies, some skinhead Knights Templar and you begin to get a picture of just how insanely fun this book can be.
Adding to the enjoyment is Stephan’s art style, to which comparisons to artists like Jhonen Vasquez or Drew Rausch can be made. Managing to find a lot of range within the gray tones employed, he also some phenomenal facial expressions that really help set the personality for each character. Creepy old ladies are appropriately menacing while Pomeranian-eating ghosts appear genuinely ethereal thanks to the juxtaposition of light and shadow. Full of great humor, impressive artwork and a character-driven storyline, this is definitely a title worth tracking down!
Sparko can be found as a digital download (Part 1) in SLG’s online shop or in paperback form at Amazon.com.
*NOTE: Sparko is cockney slang for being knocked out cold.