“Dragons breathing fire, but friendly … mushrooms tall as houses … giant nymphs and goblins playing”
Titan Comics, through their fancy imprint Statix Press, has brought some nifty European comics to the troglodytes living here in the uncultured scrublands, and Wika, which originally came out in 2014 or thereabouts, is another good one. It’s written by Thomas Day, drawn by Olivier Ledroit, lettered by Jessica Burton, and translated by Christopher Pope. Let’s see what’s what!
This is a fairly standard hero quest, but Day throws so much into the blender that it comes out odd and tasty, so the fact that the actual plot is nothing special gets overwhelmed by everything else. Those two on the cover are Duke Claymore Grimm and his smoking hot wife, Titania, who’s holding their baby, Wika, in her arms. The high king of Pan – the world where this all takes place – is Oberon, and he doesn’t dig the duke, and he and his wife Rowena (who’s a werewolf) are planning on destroying them. Titania entrusts Wika to a fun troll named Haggis, who manages to kill Rowena and escape, even though he’s mortally wounded in the process. Oberon kills the duke and then Titania, and we learn he really, really dug her (as anyone who knows a bit about Shakespeare will have already guessed). Wika grows up with a kindly couple, unaware of her ancestry. She is, not surprisingly, an extremely powerful fairy, but Haggis had to cut her wings off and so she knows nothing about that. Eventually she moves to the capital city of Oberon’s empire and begins to discover things about herself. I know, it sounds terribly familiar, doesn’t it? She learns to be a thief, falls in love, watches as that lover is killed by one of Rowena’s wolfish children, and meets the three “black” fairies who still fight against Oberon. Of course she’s destined to lead the rebellion against Oberon! Of course she finds out many secrets about her ancestral line! Of course she has to go through many dire trials before she’s ready! Of course someone who probably shouldn’t falls in love with her! Of course there are ancient curses at work!
Day, however, doesn’t screw the story up, so it works, despite its familiarity. It helps that he does nice work with the characters, so it’s easier to become invested in their fate. Of course they all talk like they’re in an opera, but that’s okay, because this is definitely an operatic type of book. What helps the book is that the “evil” characters aren’t all completely evil, and that makes their actions a bit more comprehensible. Oberon, the main villain, is the clearest example of this – he’s definitely a tyrant and he needs to be brought down, but from the glimpses we get of his past and even some of his actions in the present, we see that he’s a man driven by dark urges that he doesn’t seem to want and can’t really control. His kids are his elite strike force of killers, but even they aren’t just that, as we see throughout the book. Of course, the good guys tend to be good, but they’re not complete paragons, and Wika is an interesting character, as she learns what she needs to do to save Pan and how life sometimes sucks. So while the story isn’t the greatest, it works because of the time Day puts into the characters.
The big selling point of the comic is Ledroit’s utterly magnificent artwork. Yes, it’s incredibly busy, and yes, all the women have large breasts and tiny waists and wear less clothing than is helpful in a battle situation, but it’s still amazing. While Ledroit’s storytelling skills are terrific, he doesn’t structure many pages like traditional comics pages, instead presenting them as a gestalt of smaller sections that create an astonishing work of art while still being able to tell the tale. He’s a bit like McFarlane in that manner, if McFarlane had better storytelling skills. His full-bleed pages are stuffed with details, as he creates this marvelous world from the ground up. Every place feels real, despite existing in a fairy world, because Ledroit makes sure that it does, so the city of Avalon, for instance, isn’t just a fantasy place, as Ledroit shows missing roof tiles on some buildings, trash in the streets, and random stray animals roaming around. He dresses his characters in gorgeous clothing, making them uniquely interesting. Day has the excellent idea of making this a steampunk world, as this means the characters still use swords but they have access to guns and other machines, and Ledroit’s steampunk dragon is a sight to behold. Early on in the book, he uses curlicues and other rococo touches to make the book look even more baroque, and in later issues, instead of drawing the gears that linger in the margins, it appears he uses actual gears (I assume he then photographs the entire page for publication) to add to the effect. Again, it’s very busy, but that’s a big part of the art’s effect. In the final volume he gives us a triple-page spread, a quadruple-page spread, and another triple-page spread consecutively to show the scope and violence of the final battle, and it’s beautifully done. Ledroit’s characters experience their emotions as melodramatically as possible (again, this is a very operatic comic), but Ledroit is up to the task, as his characters are unnaturally beautiful and their features crisp, so that beauty can turn to cruelty very easily. His coloring is spectacular, as well, as it seems that he paints directly onto his boards, so that the shading is done, I would guess, by the paints and not digitally, which means the rendering feels a bit more natural. It’s one of the most beautiful comics I’ve seen in a long time, and even with the story being pretty good, this is worth it for the art alone. It’s really something special.
I linked to the book below, and it’s not a bad deal at all, as the book collects the three French volumes, so it’s nice and thick, plus it takes a while to get through it because you’re so busy staring at the art. If you use that link to buy anything, we get a little piece back, so that’s nice. Wika is a neat comic, so I encourage you to check it out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆