Best Of British: Fantasy & Friendship In Chris Baldie’s Rolled A One
by Richard Bruton
Chris Baldie is another great Brit artist who makes the sort of comics that, were he ever to ally his artistic talent to the productivity levels of someone as fast (and fabulous) as John Allison, would find a perfect home at Boom! It’s a perfect fit, as Baldie crafts comics with that magnificent warmth and cleverness of Lumberjanes and Giant Days. Sadly, like so many of the great UK comic makers, he’s not up to production speed yet. But hey, quality over quantity every time! So, one issue of Rolled A One was all we got in 2018. But damn, it’s a fine thing.
Baldie’s previous work, Space Captain, was superb, an action comedy, a comedy-drama, yet shot through with the melancholy of isolation and space travel. It looked and felt like a Pixar movie on the page, and had a hero looking for all the world like Tintin’s Captain Haddock without the beard.
However, back to Rolled A One, though, that’s what I’m meant to be talking about, and it couldn’t be further away from Space Captain, apart being just a bloody fabulous comic. And, as you can see, from that beautiful cover, it’s all about the world of role-playing games. Well, sort of. But, it all opens like this…
Lush greens, a group of adventurers on the wander. And the start of a grand role-playing adventure for us all. This is the in-game part of the comic, but it doesn’t take too long to meet the actual stars of the show, a group of five young people, huddled round their gaming table…
We learn that they’re school-mates, with the newest to the group, Alice, a recent transfer to the school. And the welcoming nature of the group is something Baldie’s definitely got right in Rolled A One, something anyone who’s ever found a home in some niche, outsider group will be very familiar with. There’s such a wonderful warmth there, and never more so, after everything finishes and they break up to head home. Something so lovely about the innocence of Alice’s response when asked if she’s coming next week… that pause, then the questioning… “Oh, I can keep playing?“, so beautifully done, something so simple, yet capturing all the excitement of finding new friends, acceptance, when you feel an outsider, and Baldie really gets it right.
But, in between joining the game and everyone going home, there’s plenty of adventuring to be getting on with, and it’s adventuring with a massive dose of love, of warmth, great cartooning, wonderful expressive characters, and a fabulous turn of comedy. You’ve already seen bits of it, with the intro of Alice to the game, but there’s funny throughout, all deliver with class and skill.
There’s an awful lot of funny stuff in Rolled A One, with Baldie displaying a wonderful sense of timing, either in the natural to-and-fro of conversation between the players…
Or the physical stuff, never moreso than this perfectly realised moment… as the questing heroes realise they may well be in trouble… it’s all in the expression and the look at the flower…
Everything in Rolled A One is just realised so well, with Baldie doing something of a mini-masterwork of just how to do it all well, without showing off, just delivering greatness without show. Whether it’s the fantasy in the game, his comedic timing, the characterisation of the five players, it is, simply, superb.
However, I’ll end with this little beauty of a page, an example of just how a comic artist can, when they’re on top of their game, without words, tell so much, control the way their readers experience the story, experience time.
Here, after pages of chat, whether it’s the players of the game or their characters within the game, Baldie switches things round, crafts smaller, tighter panels, compresses the events, creates something akin to a musical montage in films, with much the same effect. Without needed to say it, we’re immediately aware that this single page serves as hours of play, hours of questing. And then, as a simple contrast, the one solitary panel of the players of the RPG, just a snapshot, but delivering every bit of the fun and happiness the last couple of hours of gaming has given them. Enjoy, it’s magnificently done.
Ok, now the bad news. Rolled A One WAS available from Chris Baldie’s website but you’re out of luck there. (Granted, if I’d have reviewed it when I got it… but hey, my bad).
However, you will have the chance to pick a reworked version of issue 1 this summer, as Baldie has signed up with Scottish publisher, BHP Comics, who’ll be re-releasing Rolled A One in summer 2019. Look for it then and, in the meantime, do yourselves a favour, go to Baldie’s site and buy Space Captain and make yourselves a note to look for Rolled A One in summer. Or don’t… I’ll be back later in the year to nag you about it some more. After all, someone who’s this good, this early on… that’s got to be worth the wait. Best Of British…not fastest of British.