Written and art by Owen D. Pomery. Published by Avery Hill Publishing.
Science fiction is always its most interesting when it has something to say. When adventures in outer space or the far-flung futures are used to explore themes that relate to the reader’s world. Owen D. Pomery’s The Hard Switch is a graphic novel that does just that, with a story about displacement and desperation.
In the world of The Hard Switch, there is a mineral, alcanite, that’s essential for inter-system jump navigation. It allows spaceships to safely travel vast distances, allowing access to far-flung planets and systems. However, there’s no more alcanite, making space travel prohibitive for most, stranding or displacing people in the process. The vast universe has become simultaneously smaller and larger as planets become more localised and everywhere else becomes out of reach. The small cast of The Hard Switch – two women and an alien octopus – get by salvaging shipwrecks to find unspent alcanite. Although, this will throw them into something bigger as the galaxy goes through rapid change.
Pomery throws the reader into the action as we see a salvage job in progress. What’s meant to be a routine job, while it has its hazards, becomes dangerous with the increased competition for Alcanite. It’s here where the expansive page layouts of the establishing shots give way to page constructions with tighter panels that rapidly show the action, moving from one maneuver to the next. This is one of a number of exciting set pieces that highlight the desperation that has seeped into this world, whether it be motivated by greed or survival.
These pieces provide some indication of the mood of this world. However, it is in the slower moments where readers are given the nuanced details. These come through interactions with others, friend and foe, where they tell their personal stories. Here, The Hard Switch talks about trafficking and displacement, showing the human (technically, alien) cost of the world running out of alcinate. Some of it is tragic, motivating the cast in the second half of the graphic novel, and others contribute to the world-building fabric.
The other half of The Hard Switch’s world-building comes from the art. It’s a visually rich comic, with Pomery using well-defined lines to create form. While many science fiction comics would opt for tight lines, the linework in The Hard Switch is looser. It gives it an organic quality and suits the more lived-in environments – where, like the original Star Wars trilogy, things are not always shiny and clean. Spaceship interiors are littered with junk and equipment. Man-made environments look like they haven’t been maintained in years. The lines are complemented by a muted colour palette that’s distributed in a flat manner. Shadowing is applied to add depth, allowing for figures and environments to have a more solid shape while also adding to the mood. This is all topped up with subtle texturing that lifts the art without being intrusive.
Putting Owen D. Pomery’s name into a Google Image search will surface countless architectural illustrations. Many of these are isometric, which is implemented throughout The Hard Switch. This is often applied to buildings or spaceships, especially in large panels and splash pages. However, it’s not just contained to them, with larger scenes often benefiting from them too. For instance, Pomery highlights a township by zooming out, laying the buildings and paths isometrically. Through this, the characters become a small part of something larger, giving the reader a better view of their environments.
As alluded to already, scale plays a big part in the storytelling. The comic is not afraid to use it to establish an environment, dedicating a whole page to showing off. In these instances, characters and ships are tiny in comparison. It plays well into the graphic novel’s themes, highlighting that it’s a big galaxy out there.
The Hard Switch is a well-constructed science fiction story with something to say. It explores real-world themes like displacement and human trafficking, highlighting the desperation within these. It’s also a beautiful comic borrowing from architectural drawing to create an alien world that feels expansive through the clever use of scale. You won’t be disappointed if you dive into this rich world.