Update – 27 April 2022: Author John Renzella has reached out and advised that Schism is available for purchase from his website. I have added a link at the bottom of this review.
Before I dig into The Sunderland, Volume 1: Schism (or, for the sake of simplicity from here on out, simply Schism), I can’t tell you where you can buy it, nor can I for volume 2, Solitude, which I’ll have a review of on Wednesday. After following some links, it looks like it was once available for purchase on Etsy, however the seller is no longer listed on there. Which is a shame; Schism is well worth a read, but finding a copy to read looks to be problematic.
As a fan of graphic novels, I leapt at the opportunity to read Jon Renzella and Eric Weiss’ Schism, which makes a nice change of pace from reviewing simply prose. The art, in pure black and white with no grey, by Renzella is a sight to behold, absolutely arresting, and built from woodcuts. Throughout, very few individual panels make up the pages, and often these run together to paint a larger picture, and oftentimes, it presents absolutely beautiful double-page spreads. The result is otherworldly, but also off-kilter, conveying a strange undercurrent before you even get to the words.
Yet, the words here are important, and also do much of the heavy lifting. Unlike the majority of graphic novels, Renzella and Weiss pack Schism full of words; instead of relying on speech with the occasional captions, its writing is denser than you ordinarily find in the medium, and provides a lot of prose. Yet, at its 450 pages, this is still a fairly brisk read: if the images had been condensed to something more akin to most graphic novels and comic books out in the wild, this could fit into a couple of hundred pages.
Schism tells the story of a society’s collapse, thanks to a world intent on destabilising the environment thanks to corporate greed, a military that overexerts its will on humanity, religious cults, and a media that pushes its propaganda, guiding the narrative that its overlords have determined must be told, the truth be damned.
If all that sounds familiar, you’re probably just as jaded as me, and by the look of the book, Renzella and Weiss. Schism is not clear as to whether it is set on Earth, or just an Earth-like world, but the parables are clear. This is an allegory for our society, and the world in which we live.
That isn’t to say that Schism takes itself too seriously; quite the contrary. As resonant as its themes are, a large part of their success is through its satire, and sense of humour. While some of the humour is on the nose (Rupert Tits, media mogul and spokesperson for Petrolol, for example), it comes together well.
Less successful, however, is the narrative. Instead of following a protagonist (or even a number of protagonists) through a story, Schism is told via a series of vignettes, bouncing around all the different factions I mentioned earlier. Each of these groups has their own beliefs and agendas, and while these work well in isolation, as Schism throws them all together, the reader is left to parse the plot from what’s provided. The approach results in an effect that is quite engrossing, but at the end of the day, lacks a certain amount of cohesion. However, by breaking this up into various chapters (with the occasional interlude) for good measure, it does go some way to helping the reader through the events.
Schism is the first volume in the Sunderland trilogy, and ends very suddenly, beckoning the reader to read the next volume. This is not a book that stands alone, so if you want the entire story, you will need to keep reading. I note, however, that this was initially released in 2015. With Solitude having recently been released for review (as I can’t find where these books are sold, I can’t say if it’s available to buy yet or not), that’s roughly a seven year wait between these volumes. While I imagine the woodcut art is a slow, painstaking process, if the third volume takes as long to be released as this, it’s going to be a long wait to finish the story.
Rather than a narratively-driven story, Schism is an experience. For what its vignettes lack in cohesion, the satirical edge throughout keeps the reader thinking; musing about its themes. This experience is in no small part due to its art, which is truly a sight to behold. Even if you read a lot of graphic novels, even if you gravitate to black and white comics in lieu of colour, I can almost guarantee you haven’t read a graphic novel that looks like this. This is an affecting book; if it just had a stronger throughline, it could have been something truly special.
The Sunderland, Volume One: Schism was provided by BookSirens for the purpose of an honest review.
Schism will presumably be available to purchase. If I find out where, I will update the review to include it.
You can follow Jon Renzella online, via:
Note: I do not post scores on reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:
- Amazon – Review to be added in the event this book is listed