Adrian "Let’s draw some Hedgehogs" Alphona

There hasn’t been much talk about the silly elements of Ms Marvel #1, so I felt it high time to jump in and get this ball rolling. For all the iconography and mythology that’s been written and designed into the concept of Ms Marvel, one of the things which stuck with me most after reading the first issue – which I felt was a solid introduction of tone and character – was Adrian Alphona’s artwork.

When the series was first announced, it came without any imagery which showed Kamala Khan’s face. The Sara Pichelli cover hides her eyes, whilst the other covers were covered in shadow or obscured in various ways. The only actual look we got was through this image, taken from the pages of Alphona’s sketchbook:

“What’s with the hedgehog?” Everybody asked. And the answer was “that’s just what Adrian does in his sketchbooks”.

Well, okay, that’s interesting. I don’t recall seeing too many Hulk-Handed hedgehogs in Runaways, but in fairness it’s been a while since I read it. Everybody enjoyed the hedgehog, and then moved on…. until issue #1 of Ms Marvel came out! Because you know who showed up in that? THE HEDGEHOG AGAIN!

Reading the issue through the first time, I was focusing on the character, and on the closer, more detailed images of the characters whenever they stood in the foreground. Alphona goes for detail in these images, evoking an almost Quitely-esque sense of detail. But on a second read-through, I stopped on each panel to look at what’s going on in the backgrounds.

Did you see the child-catcher? And Hawkeye? They’re both in there, hidden away.

There are two notable modes in Ms Marvel’s artwork: the detailed closed-ups, and the cartoonish, more freewheeling sketches of the backgrounds. There’s almost a sense of Quentin Blake’s sketchy, elongated anatomy present at times. And it’s really entertaining to see them mix, because it’s clear that Alphona’s got a tone in mind for the comic regardless of what else is going on.

At the party scene, where Kamala is having a pretty bad time, look at some of the big crowd shots. Kamala is going through melodramatic teenage drama, as teenagers are prone to, but then in the background is a creature that looks like Totoro. And a dancing frog. There’s a robot, a man chasing someone with an axe, and somebody holding a fish.

Even in other scenes, the backgrounds are absolutely packed with silly jokes, puns, and details. The opening sequence is set in a shop, and Alphona names every single product in the background. A fire extinguisher is labelled “die fire die” and products on the shelves include “Asian River Water”, “birdy num nums”, and “orphan farms OJ”.

What you’re seeing when you look at these sequences is an artist having an absolutely brilliant time drawing a comic. Ms Marvel’s opening issue had moments of drama, humour, character and all sorts of tone and genre influences mixing together. It also had Adrian Alphona sneaking in a sequence where a hedgehog dances around Captain Marvel with a bright big grin on his face.

I loved that.

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