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Spike and Matt's Sparkneedle, reviewed by Smuga

Nudity.

It's one of the big no-nos of family entertainment.

In American entertainment, no one is ever just naked. They're having sex, or implying that they would like to be having sex, or in the shower while a homicidal killer sneaks up on them, or trying to catch the mischievous dog who's scampering away with their underwear. The revealing of the butt crack, the nipple, or the genitals serves a purpose, be it to titillate, to shock, to lampoon, or to get you to pull out your credit card. It's never just there.

Unless it's in an art museum, or in a National Geographic Magazine , or in a webcomic called Sparkneedle.

Sparkneedle, written and drawn by Spike, colored by Matt, and hosted on Girlamatic, is the story of Drimmer, mournful demon and Maria, a hot tempered angel who – with the exception of their perfectly rendered combat boots – are drawn as "nature" intended them.

It's not the sanitized, blurred out breasts, conveniently obstructing rocks, sort of nudity. Maria,, with her Rubenesque stature is as voluptuous as any fertility goddess, while Drimmer embodies the physique, if not the lustful instincts, of a Greek Satyr It doesn't take a militant feminist to notice the similarity between the mud people and a certain member of the male anatomy. Then there're the gaping holes of the caves, the way the shadows fall on the rocks and water, the choice of colors. It all comes together to make Sparkneedle as sensual as an O'Keefe flower, each panel a piece of art in its own right.

The panels themselves are stacked vertically, two to six per page, giving the comic the feel of movie storyboards. Most are sized to fit in a laptop browser's window, but the juxtapositional aspect of the sequential art is somewhat lost. It's especially noticeable in the scene involving the fish and the dead mud person, where it takes careful study between several panels to discern what is going on.

Sparkneedle works best when you can flip back and forth through the pages, picking up details that you might previously have overlooked. Unfortunately, because of the subscription policy at Girlamatic, a casual broswer, with access to the current page only, might chance upon a set of images, shrug in bewilderment, and never bother returning.

For those with an account on Girlamatic, Chapter 1 of Sparkneedle unfolds into a interesting start of a story. Spike has chosen to write a textless comic – character interactions consist largely of meaningful looks and pictograph conversations. The best of these may be this debate among the mud people concerning their word/concept to describe Maria/Drimmer.

Again, it helps to be able to page back and forth to get a better feel for what the pictographs are saying, but Spike's ability to convey emotions through facial and body gestures, as well as her choice of individual panel composition, expresses the intent and mindset of the characters – it's like watching very well acted foreign film. You might not know what's going on, but you know how all the characters feel about it.

It's fairly apparent that Chapter 1 is by and large just setting up the conflict; presumably more things will become clear (or clearer) when Chapter 2 begins later this summer. Spike writes that the new chapter will likely be rendered in black and white, as the coloring process is very time intensive. This could be a shame as the color used in Chapter 1 really makes the details of the artwork stand out, and helps to better distinguish the more abstract creatures – like the fish – from the backgrounds.

It will be interesting to see where Spike takes Sparkneedle from here. Will the new black and white artwork be as evocative and lush as the current color pages? Will Spike be able to develop her world and characters, and advance the plot, while still using only pictographs? Will there be more full frontal nudity? Given the strong start and experience Spike has with other comics, the first two are likely, the third is a guarantee.

Smuga is a staff contributor for the Comixpedia.