Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Shutter #10. Written by Joe Keatinge (Glory, Tech Jacket) with art by Leila Del Duca (The Pantheon Project) and colors by Owen Gieni (Glory, Manifest Destiny), this issue delves into Kate Kristopher’s desires and motivations by throwing her into the mind-bending Dreamscape. (This review reveals major plot points.)

Comic books are a medium where creators can really let their imaginations run free. The combination of words and pictures opens up infinite storytelling opportunities at a much more reasonable budget than film or television, and allows for the realization of a more specific vision than a novel, which relies more heavily on the reader’s individual interpretation. There’s still an element of interaction as the reader connects the individual narrative moments on a comics page. But ultimately the world of a comic is more concrete than a novel, and more flexible than film and TV.

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Shutter’s creative team is acutely aware of the medium’s limitless possibilities. Writer Joe Keatinge experiments with different narrative influences (highlights include short origin stories inspired by Richard Scarry books and newspaper comic strips). Artist Leila Del Duca smoothly adjusts her style as the story shifts while filling the world with inventive, eye-catching character and environmental designs. Incredibly versatile colorist Owen Gieni modulates his coloring to suit the changes in Del Duca’s art, and lettering legend John Workman makes the text an evocative visual element with dialogue and sound effects that brilliantly reflect tone, pitch, volume.

This team of bold creative minds lets loose on Shutter #10. The issue ratchets up the experimentation as it sends lead heroine Kate Kristopher into the Dreamscape, a dimension that uproots reality and intensifies emotions. Kate’s life has been spiraling out of control over the last nine issues, and she’s crippled by the weight of recent events upon her arrival in the Dreamscape with her half-sister Kalliyan. The gravity of this existential crisis is captured in the opening pages, which call back to the start of the very first issue of Shutter. That conversation between Kate and her father on the moon was all about shifting perspective, and the book revisits it to prepare Kate for another big change.

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Following the same layouts as the opening of Shutter #1, the beginning of Shutter #10 has an adult Kate walking in the shoes of her child self before falling back into her disoriented present. The panel structure and angles are all the same as that first issue, but Kate’s newly discovered kid brother has replaced her father, and the corners of each panel are peeling in to reveal backgrounds of solid cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. As she falls out of a panel border and into the Dreamscape, she tumbles past her screaming self, an image that is layered with cyan, magenta, and yellow outlines of Kate’s nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems, respectively. The four basic tones used in color printing, these recurring colors signify Kate’s return to her personal foundation as she enters the Dreamscape, and she needs to come to terms with her fundamental desires if she’s going to get her bearings.

When Kate wakes up, her adjustment to a new plane of reality is depicted in a series of panels showing Kalliyan’s face transitioning from a rough outline to finished pencils, inks, and colors, with each stage attached to one word in a sentence: “You’re certainly a bloody idiot.” It’s a clever way of incorporating the various steps of the creative process into the narrative, and also spotlights what each member of the visual team brings to the book. The transition from the fourth to the fifth panel shows how much texture and dimension Gieni brings to Del Duca’s linework, and there’s a subtle change in Workman’s lettering that makes the panel sequence feel self-contained. While the word balloon tails of the first four panels are curved out to the left, the balloon tail in the final panel curves to the right, closing off the space and acting like a big white period for a sentence that unfolds over many parts.

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Shutter #10 hosts some truly gorgeous imagery, and it’s amazing that this is Leila Del Duca’s first major comic-book work. She stretches herself with every issue, always striving for more detail, motion, and expression in her linework, and the more trippy elements of #10 allow her to play around with panel layouts to reflect changes in Kate’s perspective. The peeling panels of the opening sequence and Kate’s interaction with them make for an exciting entrance to the Dreamscape, and Kate’s enlightening conversation with her roommate Alain is detailed with fluid pink panel borders that reinforce a dreamlike atmosphere.

Keatinge’s story is one of self-discovery: Kate has lost hold of her identity as her preconceived notions of her family history are shattered. She doesn’t know her place in this new world, but she needs to ground herself if she’s going to be functional in the Dreamscape. The scripting for Kate’s hallucinatory conversation with Alain is a little blunt with the self-realization questions, but it makes for a strong thesis statement regarding the entire series. “Where do I fit in if everything’s so new?” Kate asks herself, and Alain responds by asking Kate who she wants herself to be and what she’s fighting for. She wants to be a photographer, and she’s fighting for all the people that she’s made intimate connections with over the years, a conclusion depicted in a splash page of Kate standing in front of various images showing her spending time with various figures in her life. No matter how crazy life gets (and it’s getting crazy), as long as Kate holds on to those personal relationships, she will always have the will to keep pushing forward.

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Kate’s epiphany is just one of the multiple striking splash pages Del Duca and Gieni create for this issue, and when they get the chance to go big, they don’t waste it. The opening splash of CMYK Kates jumping across the moon sets the stage for the rest of the psychedelia, which includes a two-splash revealing that the terrain Kate and Kalliyan have been running on is actually the face of Kate’s great-great-uncle Harold Rathburn. It’s an impactful reveal that plays with this issue’s larger theme of perspective, and dramatically expands the scope of the artwork to fit a character that is so huge, he’s the environment.

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The Shutter creative team has taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by the comic-book medium, but not just in terms of storytelling. Comics are one of the few places where consumers can have direct contact with the creators through letters that gain printed responses. Shutter is one of the many Image Comics that is bringing back the letters column to enhance the reading experience by inviting other reader interpretations. Each issue of Shutter also includes bonus content like short comics and essays, introducing readers to different voices in the larger comics industry. Shutter #10 features a playful yet haunting short comic by Aster Pang as well as the latest absurd “Tiger Lawyer” one-pager by Ryan Ferrier and Felipe Torrent. That sense of community in the single issues has made this a title worth checking out every month rather than waiting on the collections.