Review by Seán Donnelly
Created by Hayley Mulch
What do you get when you blend high-octane sci-fi, an anime-inspired animal protagonist and a hard-edged Irish sensibility? You’d probably get something quite close to Vermillion, a sadly-defunct webcomic by Cork-based artist Hayley Mulch. The story revolves around Space Officer Triggs, a Yorkshire Terrier who aids his fellow inspectors and officers. One such inspector is Caoimhe Costello; the youngest Space Inspector ever appointed in fact, whose reliance on intuition contrasts with her more level-headed colleague Sabrina Adeli. Together the trio must contend with harsh intergalactic environments and provide law and order to the galaxy.
Vermillion does not stray from this pitch in the slightest, set on Saturn’s largest moon and taking place in Shangri-La, “the (only) hippest joint on the satellite!” Caoimhe and Sabrina indulge in a few drinks while Triggs wanders off by himself, only to stumble upon a gruesome sight. Though the story itself remains unfinished, there is certainly a lot to like in the material that remains. All three characters are vividly defined, with Triggs staring wistfully out into the distance as Caoimhe becomes intoxicated, much to Sabrina’s bemusement. Dialogue is also spot-on, with Caoimhe’s speech being peppered with Irish slang.
Mulch has mixed feelings over the webcomic, considering it as more of a “pilot” than a proper story owing to changes in the story’s initial conception that wound up making it feel obsolete. Yet there are flourishes and aspects about this work that elevate it beyond this description. Mulch’s use of colour is especially noteworthy, as it shifts from scene to scene and lends each moment a unique sense of scale and emotion. The shades of pink and purple that give energy to the interior Shangri-La scenes shift to a more rugged orange colour for the exterior scenes featuring Triggs, whose monochrome colour scheme makes him stand out from the crowd, heightening his isolation. When the tone descends into a panic, the colour darkens into a sinister red. Tricks such as these are commendable at a professional level, let alone an amateur one, and shows Mulch’s shrewd approach to art.
This is also evident in her composition. While some drawings are perhaps too flat at times, when Mulch strikes for ambition she usually nails it. The moment of Triggs looking out towards the greater Shangri-La area and being met with a planet rising in the distance is – in the character’s own words – “mesmerising.” The arguable centrepiece of the comic, the musical number by Xoco Apollo, aims high and hits the target. The shift to a monochrome colour scheme from the previous pink and purple only highlights the importance of this moment, and the contrast used to great effect when Xoco Apollo is met with a fate that we dare won’t spoil for you. Vermillion’s character design is also quite strong, with Triggs’ fusion of cute design and darker clothing reflecting the comic’s overall combination of a charming Saturday morning cartoon with a grand sci-fi epic, which to Mulch’s credit largely succeeds even in this early state.
Today Hayley Mulch works as an illustrator with a considerable presence on social media spaces such as Tumblr and Twitter, with a steadily growing fanbase. It has been a few years since Vermillion and Mulch’s style as evolved considerably since then. She has a keen eye for colour, and her drawings are stronger and more dynamic than ever. In Vermillion we see an artist with a lot of promise, and thankfully – if Mulch’s current works are anything to go by – she has delivered on that promise, and then some.