Review by Karl Verhoven
The Out began as desire on the part of creators Dan Abnett and Mark Harrison to come up with a project from scratch, as their previous collaborations were on series begun by other artists before Harrison started working on them. The brief was a series showcasing Harrison’s visual creativity, and from that came Cyd and her strange journey.
This collection combines the first two stories, and the opener must have seemed especially meandering when originally serialised in weekly instalments. It fulfils the brief of showcasing Harrison at his best in following a photo-journalist from Earth as she tours around alien environments. Cyd takes her pictures and dispatches them to her editor, and continues to the next venue. Harrison’s pages look the work of a man who’s grown up reading the lush European artists showcased in Heavy Metal, and he’s a match for the best of them. Each of his splash pages could be a cover, while the four following per episode are almost overwhelmingly detailed, but without ever losing focus. Harrison places filters over some panels, and designs one amazing looking alien after another. The one small piece of unintentional strangeness is the way Harrison sometimes draws Cyd’s mouth.
Abnett’s plot, meanwhile, is at first reminiscent of an old 2000AD great, The Ballad of Halo Jones in that there are no big space battles, or even individual ones, just Cyd going about her business making observations about what she sees, and trying to earn a living. A running joke is that she’s so far away that no-one’s ever heard of Earth, and so it’s inconsequential. Another is that the translator Cyd uses can’t cope very well, and so what she hears doesn’t necessarily make sense: “What part of ooking didn’t you understand?”, she’s asked at one stage. The drifting continues, although always imaginatively changing circumstances, until Cyd hits an existential crisis and we learn more about her and why she’s travelling. It’s a stunning episode giving Cyd a greater purpose and making her more human, which is an odd comment to make about barely the only human ever seen, but in context it resonates.
At its simplest, The Out is about a tourist who makes money from the places she visits, although it eventually develops into something else. The stopoffs allow Abnett and Harrison to bring the wonder without being anchored to a single location or set of circumstances, and pretty well allow them to slot Cyd into any circumstances. The second half defines Cyd’s purpose more clearly and supplies her with a travelling companion, although this is no Doctor Who-style helper, but continues the same sense of whimsical wonder with brief and astonishingly emotional interludes.
The Out is a collection to savour, not to be rushed. Read a few episodes at a time and let the ideas and art wash over you as they really are the entire deal, and eventually discover a whole new set of mental images to accompany Abba’s Dancing Queen. It’s wonderful, and for those it touches The Out will become your new favourite SF series.