Shades of Men follows the story of Lev and Ricky, two long-time hobos living in Paris. As they meet a young boy thrown out on the streets, they decide to help him no matter what.
But the quest for survival and redemption won’t be easy and ghosts of the past will stand on their way.
Shades of Men by Jrej is a hidden gem on Tapastic with just over 100 subscribers. I think the reason for this may be that the comic isn’t given much of a chance as the artwork isn’t on par with popular comics. But the story? The story is incredible.
Shades of Men takes place in the underbelly of Paris, France. He shows us the disparity between how the world views Paris, with tourists influencing the treatment of the poor and homeless, and the reality of trying to find a job in a city that stigmatizes you.
There are great character development opportunities throughout the comic. Jrej makes sure that the characters have enough intrigue to really push the reader to keep reading and figure out exactly who they are and how they ended up as mere “shadows of men.”
Reading just the first chapter, you may not think too much of the story. Although Shades of Men does have a good introduction, alone, it isn’t enough to keep people reading. There is a clear plot, there is a new character introduced even at the end of the chapter to intrigue people in chapter two, but it wasn’t until more of their world was introduced, and a fabulous plot twist was brought in, that I really got dragged into the story (end of chapter 3). Three chapters may feel like a lot, but it’s an easy read and the first two chapters are important for buildup.
As for the writing, well, we already know that the plot is there and in order for that to be the case, the writing has to be up to par. Jrej does an excellent job with grammar and spelling. There may be a few areas where it could be improved, but based off of the population that Shades of Men focuses on, grammar errors could very well be on purpose.
The real issue I have with the writing is that it can feel scripted at times (especially in the first few chapters). However, Shades of Men has some great flow once a conversation gets going. The awkward parts pop up again whenever a new character is introduced to help with plot transitions. These need to be worked on.
Overall, I think the writing isn’t half bad. There are certainly areas of improvement, but those become evident in the later chapters. Jrej is continually growing as a storyteller and an artist as the plot moves on.
Although the artwork in the first few chapters isn’t quite what people may be looking for, it still is clear enough to impact the way the story is told. The farther you read along, the better the artwork gets as well. So give Shades of Men a chance if the art is the only thing that is really pulling you away from this story.
One of the problems with the art is the stiff design. The characters feel very two dimensional at times, as if they are posing. There is also a lack of eye contact between characters which can also make the conversations feel awkward and scripted.
However, Jrej makes up for this by bringing in unique panel designs that really help express the scenes and the story overall.
The panels influence the way the scenes are depicted, but they can easily be overlooked if the rest of the artwork isn’t complimentary. By working on sharper line work and proportional accuracy, Jrej could drastically improve this area.
The same goes for distancing. There are a few great moments captured in some scenes but they are weakened by some artistic errors. Working on perspective could really improve these scenes as well.
Jrej has very clear strengths and weaknesses when it comes to his art. Paneling is definitely a strength, proportion and perspective are weaknesses. Another strength is his ability to create flow within a panel or page. The eye smoothly moves from one corner of the page to the next, following the direction Jrej takes you.
Lastly, the backgrounds. Shades of Men offers some great historical scenery throughout the comic. If you have ever been to Paris, or know anything about it, than you may recognize several places depicted here. Again, as the comic progresses, Jrej improves in his backgrounds and does an excellent job with one-panel pages.
Shades of Men by Jrej is a diamond in the rough. All it takes is a bit of shining to see that this comic has a lot of potential to be something truly great.
I would challenge any reader to give Shades of Men a read-through. Read it all in one go, pay attention to the details, and make a decision on whether you think it is worth it. I say it is.
For new readers, check out the chapter version of Shades of Men here.
For readers who want to have one page at a time (more frequent updates) read it here.