Petrograd is an original graphic novel published through Oni Press. This is a historical spy thriller written by Philip Gelatt with art by Tyler Crook. It is lettered by Douglas E. Sherwood. This graphic novel takes place in Petrograd, the city which was St Petersburg, renamed several times, and then restored to St Petersburg. The year is 1916, and Russia is locked in a brutal war. But in the capital, the people are struggling. It is a place full of spies, lies, and revolutionaries. Embedded in Petrograd is a British agent called Cleary, who mingles with the lower and the upper classes. He finds himself entwined with Prince Felix, who, along with a lover, begins plotting the assassination of Rasputin, the Tsar’s most trusted advisor.
Gelatt had a lot of work to do to get such an incredible, complicated story into a script that lands, and that is absolutely the case. This is an astounding thriller plot, played out achingly slowly. The writer builds the event up at a very methodical place, so much so that the first chapter barely even mentions Rasputin. Giving the reader an idea of the city and the emotional state Russia’s capital city is in, as well as the key players involved. We discover it is a place on a knife-edge anyway, with the Okhrana, Russia’s secret police, causing confusion and mistrust among the population. Rasputin’s reputation has sullied the opinion of the monarchy, not helped by the war in the West. Gelatt does an excellent job of capturing the tension within this period.
The characters are phenomenal inside the graphic novel. The main character, Cleary, is our entry into the gloomy world of Russian politics and society. He integrates himself with Bolsheviks, hypersexual princes, and brutal soldiers. A great part of his personality that the writer has implemented is that he isn’t exactly a calm and composed man. In his introduction, he is comfortable in his job as he believes himself protected. But as the story progresses, he is anxious and, in many instances, cowardly. His permanent fear has an equal response on the reader as they start to mimic his feelings. He does end as a sympathetic figure as larger forces than himself benefit from his actions.
The other characters that are involved have genuinely existed, and Gelatt grants each of them a character arc without diverting too much from it. The historical accuracy has to be commended, especially regarding Prince Felix and Dmitri. The prince was, according to numerous sources, bisexual and a crossdresser. The writer also leans in on the rumor that the two were lovers. To even understand that this was a possibility shows the true depth of research that the writer must have undertaken. Both are brilliantly depicted and exist to aggravate Cleary throughout most of the plot.
As for Rasputin himself, his presence is particularly interesting. He isn’t really seen for three-quarters of the entire graphic novel, and we only get glimpses of him like a haunting ghost. But it is his influence in the city that inflates his importance to the entire Russian Empire. Like with the prince, stories about his sexual exploits and almost mystical abilities make him large than life. And when he does appear, to see the writer create dialogue for such a mysterious man is fascinating.
The art is absolutely incredible, especially when you consider how long this project has been a part of Crook’s life. This is three years of work, and the reasons why are evident. It’s a gigantic comic, filled with detail. The line art is so impressive, recreating a city from over 100 years ago. Landmarks and streets and even small abodes are given love and attention, hidden in the shadows.
Crook’s horror credentials come to fruition, leading to some intensely creepy scenes. The artist beautifully encapsulates real-life faces within his own brilliant style. Where this is most notable is with Rasputin. The man has always had this captivating stare that seems to pierce your soul, and Crook has managed to recreate that spine-chilling expression in his own panels. But this comic features utterly brilliant representations of emotions. The mournful, resentful looks on people’s faces are saddening.
There is a lot of conversation in the comic, the majority of the book is laden with it, but the art is never boring. And when the action does kick-off, there is insanity and deliberate confusion. But Crook will often utilize empty space on frequent occasions, allowing for calmness.
The coloring is interesting because there isn’t much of it. Crook uses one main color for the entirety of the whole comic, which is this blend of red and brown. But that does not limit nuance in the slightest, as there is an incredible variety of ways in which the reddish-brown is adjusted in its shade and tone. The almost monochromatic nature of the comic allows for the use of both white and black to fill in the details, creating silhouettes,
The lettering is very well-suited to the comic. The font is large and easy to read, crucial in a book filled with dialogue.
Petrograd is a remarkable experience. It is such an immersive, all-encompassing, wealthy collection of content. A spy thriller that contains love, betrayal, and excitement using a brilliant setting. What’s amazing about the death of Rasputin event is that it’s such a fascinating story that it doesn’t need huge amounts of alterations to make it fit as a narrative. All of the riveting pieces are there. Crook’s art is simply fascinating and absolutely fundamental to storytelling. This is a labor of love that has taken years to complete and to read such a thing feels special.
Petrograd is available now wherever comics are sold.
Petrograd is a remarkable experience. It is such an immersive, all-encompassing, wealthy collection of content. A spy thriller that contains love, betrayal, and excitement using a brilliant setting.
Screenwriter with a love of comics and movies. Once referred to Wuthering Heights as “the one with the Rabbits.”