Tag Archives: graphic novels

Sandman: Overture

The Sandman: OvertureThe Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was the Dream of the first created things: those that sleep in the sleep beneath space.

Neil Gaiman is the Sandman, can we all agree on that? In as much as the character has created him and he has created the character, Morpheus—he of the brooding visage and the black shirts—is in some sense certainly Gaiman’s idealization of aspects of himself. And it’s also true that Gaiman gets to create the world of Dreaming, gets to guard and define it, just as the Sandman does. It’s a narrative artistry that works here. On the canvas of a comic embellished with incredible artistry, Gaiman’s strength in creating idealizations of form and dialogue is untouchable. Lines like the one above float on pages of color and wonder. They are, I think, much harder to carry off in a novel.

They say every story must be told at least once, before the final nightfall.

As a kid I loved Marvel’s Infinity War, in which cosmic forces like Order, Chaos, and Infinity went to war in full color spreads across the panels. This is more or less what we get in Sandman: Overture, a six-issue collection that is faster and more epic but with less subtly and texture than was developed in the full seventy-five issues of the Sandman series itself. Of course, this prequel lacks the scope of the entire series, but it also plays for higher stakes. Gaiman was relatively unknown at the start of his run in Sandman; now he’s a legend returning to his homeland.

These stakes are reflected in the narrative: Dream has to save reality itself. Yet the collection of powers at play here teeters on the baroque: the enigmatic First Circle (should I know who they are?), Dream’s parents, the Endless themselves, and the potential death of the universe. I read the original Sandman series years ago, so this straightforward read was more for the epic wonder and beauty of the thing; a closer reading would probably bring to light all the nooks and crannies Gaiman has filled into the texture of the original Sandman. Even the lapsed fan though can appreciate finally learning how Dream came to be captured at the very beginning of the series.

Dream attempts to save the universe, with the help of a little girl named Hope. Trite? A bit, if it wasn’t so gorgeous. Only Gaiman, aided and abetted by the overwhelming artistic genius of J. H. Williams III, can get away with lines like this, Dream explaining his situation to his mother:

I was expelled from the universe, by stars caught up with rhetoric and infection. I’m currently inside a black hole.

Does it work? Of course it does; it’s Gaiman. But it works because Gaiman gets to make his own rules. In a story that deals with embodiments of psychic principles projected on a cosmic scale, you don’t have to worry about self-consistency. Not matter what finality with which Dream is cast into a black hole at the end of one chapter, his mother can stop by for a chat and his brother can tug him out with relative ease a few pages later. How did the ship get into Destiny’s garden? The simple answer is magic, and it’s the magic bleeding off the pages of this work that makes it all right.

There is (of course) a dreamlike quality to the whole thing. It hangs together while you’re reading it but upon waking the logic starts to unravel and—like a dream—you’re left with only memories and images of beauty.

Which is probably the point.

The Incal

The IncalThe Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was a good Christmas this year. Among other things, I found beneath the tree a book sometimes said to be the greatest comic ever written, The Incal. I don’t know about that, but it does seem a sort of Citizen Kane of science fiction graphic novels. It’s written by Jodorowsky with art by Moebius, both of whom are names that loom large in the background of lots of science fiction whether or not you’ve actually heard of them. The comic was originally published in the 1980s in French and is supposed to have been pivotal in defining the scope and possibility of the medium for doing epic, genre-bending science fiction. Jodorowsky was at one point working on an screen adaptation of Dune (late 1970s, prior to the David Lynch version) and though abandoned you can see the influences here. Moebius went on to do art and storyboards for things like Tron, Aliens, and The Fifth Element, which is why much of The Incal seems eerily familiar. It was a test bed for much of what defined scifi for the next decade.

As far as narrative goes though, the bones are bare. We’re abruptly dropped into the life and mishaps of John DiFool, a rumpled, selfish, slovenly private investigator, who stumbles upon a powerful conscious entity/artifact called the Incal and who quickly becomes the target of random groups and forces angling to get their hands on it. Characters are introduced just as abruptly as well, without any real backgrounding or development: evil swamp queen, superhuman bounty hunter, dog-headed marauder, and topless animistic love interest. Dialog is clunky, with characters frequently explaining themselves, their feelings, and their motivations. Like Citizen Kane, looking back on it now it seems pretty wooden.

But in the midst this Jodorowsky spins out a dizzying, fractal-like story that spans multiple galaxies and ranges from slum planets (with loads of social satire) to the gold-encrusted galactic capital to watery prison worlds and beyond. Even though the first half of the book is basically one long chase scene and the second a lot of random things happening in quick succession, each thing is brilliantly new, fusing fantasy, science fiction, and mysticism (the main characters are supposed to each embody characters or aspects from the Tarot), making it a worthy read.

It’s the art of Moebius though that marks this a classic. Jodorowsky’s writing is haphazard and exuberant, but he doesn’t provide any depth of character or real explanations of plot. The only revelations that come in the book are in the shattering, full-page vistas by Moebius. What could in prose be a run-of-the-mill deus ex machina, for instance, becomes in this medium a gorgeous and sublime epiphany.

Moebius’s art is multi-form and morphic. It’s gritty when necessary, cartoonish when appropriate, and epic, sweeping, or detailed as needed. Packed crowd scenes feel almost Where’s Waldo-esque, aspects of the Great Darkness foreshadow the segmented horrors of Aliens, and the detailed techno panels feel familiar from classic Star Wars story boards or concept sketches. Overlaid with this all, the colors are sharp and vivid, making the whole sweeping dream-like tableau electric and lively. It’s easy to see why this was groundbreaking at the time (and scandalous, considering some scenes made it originally censored in its first US release) .

The edition of the work I found under the Christmas tree is packaged in hardcover with high-quality printing that I can only imagine helps recapture what it must have originally felt like reading it. With that and the added touch of a ribbon bookmark, the outside of The Incal feels as weighty and significant and the interior is trippy and avante garde, like you’re holding a piece of visual and literary science fiction history (as you are).

Transformers: More than Meets the Eye Volume 8

mtmte7Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 8 by James Roberts
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

With great excellence comes great expectations. If you’ve followed my book reviews for long, you know that I’m a huge fan of the work of James Roberts and Alex Milne on the ongoing IDW Transformers: More than Meets the Eye series. The release of each trade paperback is a Pretty Big Deal in my world, a world that is usually more or less cut off from What’s Cool Right Now. (I still haven’t seen either Interstellar or The Martian, for example, and I have no idea how many superheroes are currently appearing on network television series.) I’ve had huge expectations for each of these installments, which have consistently been setting the bar higher and higher. Great art, fantastic story-telling, compelling science fiction, and giant transforming robots. What’s not to love?

I say all that to say that the expectations were ratcheted up (no pun intended regarding the cover) pretty high for Volume 8, and it was the first volume that disappointed. I usually read each volume twice before posting a review. With Roberts’ writing this is important, as the narrative flow can at times be very dense. This one though only merited a quick re-skim to see if my initial dissatisfaction was justified. I think it was.

So here’s my list of tongue-in-cheek suggestions as to why this volume for the very first time in the run of TF:MTMTE trades left a bad taste in my mouth. And I say tongue-in-cheek because I realize it’s easy to criticize. So while I stand by these complaints, I still say Roberts is doing great work and can keep doing whatever he wants. I’ll be reading Volume 9, no worries. These are also tongue-in-cheek because they’re also to some extent an acknowledgement of what Roberts is doing continually, which is turning some common expectations on their heads.

But anyway, here they are:

1. Don’t humanize the sociopaths. The Decepticon Justice Division since nearly the very beginning of the series have been the bogeymen, the horror, the real Bad Guys now that the Decepticons themselves are ambiguous. (I’m not sure who the Bad Guys are in the other IDW Transformer title.) They were the worst of the worst of what the Decepticon cause could become. So don’t humanize them now. Don’t pull their teeth. We’ve already had sociopaths getting humanized: Megatron. So please keep Tarn and company easy to hate. Don’t introduce us to the humor and social dynamics of their crew. Don’t confuse our loyalties. And please, please don’t give the DJD a Tailgate. We don’t need another cute sidekick to show us the softer side of our mechanical killing machines.

2. Don’t dial back the body count. This series immediately found its legs by introducing us to the second-stringers of the Transformers universe and not being afraid to kill them. We learned that the secondary characters were themselves heroes, and then we learned that heroes died. The early issues– especially those with Overlord– were gritty and felt real. Things have lightened up significantly in this volume, which is fine, but now we’ve got another wave of second-second-stringers to keep track of. We’ve got a second replacement medic. We’ve got a bunch of new faces. Fine, but remind us why this all matters. I’m with Rodimus on this one: please let Thunderclash die, for goodness’ sake. I guess I’m as twisted as the DJD: I want dead Autobots or the game just stops feeling real.

3. Don’t get sappy. I get it, and I appreciate it: we’re playing with romantic relationships among non-biologically gendered robots. That’s pretty cool, and it was pretty effective when it was Rewind and Chromedome. But I feel like this volume has a lot of drama, a lot of weird tensions, and a lot of goofy crushing. Please, please, please don’t give me an Autobot love triangle (unless Dominus Ambus turns about to be Tarn). And please don’t give me any more pictures of Rewind and Chromedome on a flowered backdrop with the words “my love” written anywhere, ever.

4. Don’t get cute. Besides the two-issue throwaway story arch about the charisma parasites (which I think was a low point for the series so far), this is my major complaint about this volume. It felt too cute. Ten is cute. He draws cute pictures and makes cute toys. Swerve is very meta and cute, creating an entire sitcom planet in which our heroes can cut cute figures and be cute and snarky. I’ve already complained about the DJD’s cute sidekick. Even Megatron’s cuteness in this volume, as he bickers with both Rodimus and Magnus, shows perhaps more than anything else his integration into the Lost Light crew. One or two issues of heavy cuteness I think I could have taken, but the whole volume was full of it. (A major theme of this volume was Autobot dance parties, for Cybertron’s sake.)

Again though, it’s quite likely that Roberts knows exactly what he’s doing. He probably has some of this series’ darkest developments up his sleeve, and he knows we need some time sit back and relax, project our holomatter avatars and just be silly for a while. Or perhaps he’ll explain away the whole thing in another few issues with a wonderfully detailed explanation involving metabombs, time loops, and quantum cuteness paradoxes. Maybe while all this was happening in our universe, another crew of the Lost Light completed their quest only to realize Cyberutopia was long ago consumed by the Chaos-Bringer, Overlord returned, and Pharma had an epic battle over a smelting pool with Ratchet (as opposed to our universe, where Ratchet gets a Drift action figure).

But to tell the truth (Primus help me), I would have rather read a comic about that universe.

Boxers & Saints

Boxers & Saints Boxed SetBoxers & Saints Boxed Set by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Yang’s American Born Chinese years ago. I don’t remember everything about it, but I do recall that I enjoyed it quite a bit and was especially impressed with the way Yang treated both traditional Chinese mythology and Christianity, managing it in a way that neither belittled nor cheapened either. I hadn’t realized it was still possible to treat Christianity seriously in modern literature (and I definitely include many graphic novels in the category of modern literature) without making it the whipping boy for clashing cultures or post-colonial guilt.

Whereas Christianity and Chinese culture can coexist and and make American Born Chinese successful, no one can accuse Yang of ignoring when this has not been the case. Indeed, Yang takes one of the most famous and tragic confrontations between Western Christianity and Chinese culture as the focus of his latest two-volume work, Boxers & Saints. Here Yang combines history with magical realism, excellent artwork and storytelling, and cultural tact to present a retelling of this conflict from two complimenting viewpoints that is as poignant as it is tragic, as haunting as it is visually effective.

I call Boxers & Saints a two-volume work, but it is not a chronological division. Boxers, the longer of the two, tell the story of a Chinese peasant boy who becomes the leader of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, known to Westerners as the Boxers, who rebelled against growing Western influence in China in the first years of the twentieth century. Saints tells the story of a Chinese peasant girl who becomes a Christian during this period and is a first-hand witness to the consequences of the Boxer Rebellion, particularly its targeting of Chinese Christians.

There are no good guys or bad guys in this book. Even the martyrs are simply people trying to do what they think is best. This is a huge strength of the work, something that Yang accomplishes by splitting the work into its two complementary pieces. We see the threat that Western influence represented to Chinese culture and the domineering presence of many Christian missionaries through the eyes of the hero of Boxers. And we see all the blood and death and ultimate personal tragedy that resulted because of it through the eyes of participants on both sides.

The shades of grey get even deeper in Saints, as we are given a glimpse of the mundanities that led many Chinese to embrace Christianity as well as the genuine piety that resulted. Even the saints are ambivalent though, and it’s a stroke of genius that it is Joan of Arc that appears to the heroine of this volume, making the parallels between her attempt to unify France and repel the English invaders and the Boxers’ attempts to do the same for China painfully obvious, even to the Christian protagonist. There are a lot of painful loyalties; there’s a lot of death and tragedy. That’s what makes it so real though: people living through things that really happened, making actual, complicated choices that are often wrong and never black and white.

What makes Yang’s work especially powerful though, like American Born Chinese, is that he never reduces these complicated choices to materialism alone. Magic and spirituality are real here. The heroine from Saints interacts with Joan of Arc throughout the narrative. The hero from Boxers is transformed into a Chinese god who turns out to be the first Emperor of China, returned to save his country through the peasant boy whatever the cost. The Chinese gods are as real– as they were undoubtedly– to the Boxers as the Christian saints (and Jesus, who makes an appearance) were to the Christians. Yang shows us that people don’t put themselves in danger or make sacrifices on behalf of others for physical reasons alone; they do so because of the spiritual realities– the magic– that underlies the world that Yang creates.

The story is told through Yang’s simple, straightforward artwork– pleasingly flat and colorful without ever being two-dimensional or distractingly cartoonish. It is a comic of simple lines and drawings, lacking the depth of shading or detail of something like Joe the Barbarian. In Yang’s work though, this is a strength. The effective simplicity frames the story quite well.

The two volumes are not clearly indicated vol. 1 or vol. 2, but I would suggest reading Boxers first. The stories of the two heroes intersect only twice in their narratives, once in passing at the beginning and again near the climax, but having read Boxers first you can understand the epilogue of Saints better.

Yang does an admirable job navigating what might for anyone else be a minefield of cultural and religious stereotypes to tell a compelling story that underlines the tragedy of religious war by making both sides understandably human. But the paradox, as I mentioned above, is that it does this by treating the spiritual aspects seriously without cheapening or patronizing either East or West. This doesn’t mean it’s all random shades of grey with no white: the true answer, the real heroism comes, Yang seems to be saying, where true compassion is present. There, whether embodied in the crucified Christ or the Chinese goddess of compassion, Yang says, there is hope.

Logicomix

Logicomix: An Epic Search for TruthLogicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine a history book that examines the philosophical foundations of mathematics, specifically the quest that culminated in the years leading up to the First World War to establish all mathematical reasoning on a firm logical basis. That book would have a lot of ground to cover. It would have to disentangle some complex mathematics to present to the non-specialist in a meaningful way, as well as shed light on the manic, driven, fascinating characters behind this story, people like Bertrand Russell, Kurt Gödel, David Hilbert, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Finally, it would need to give at least some light to the background historic scaffolding upon which this drama played out: the turn of the century, the First World War, the rise of Nazism, and interwar Vienna. At tall order for any book, let alone a comic book.

So now imagine that book as a graphic novel—moreover, as a graphic novel that succeeds at all these tasks. That’s what you’ve got with Logicomix, a complex, stirring, well-executed, multi-layer work that brings to life one of the most compelling chapters of mathematical and philosophical history. In a general sense, the graphic novel (which is hefty, weighing in at over 300 pages not counting the reference material at the end) could be considered a stylized biography of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), 3rd Earl Russell, the British logician and grandson of the Prime Minister, who began his career with an attempt to bring logical rigor to all mathematical reasoning.

Beyond Russell’s stylized biography (stylized because the historical interactions in the graphic novel are artfully fudged for better dramatic effect), the narrative of Logicomix plays out on three levels. Level one is the primary chronological narrative, but level two is the fact that this primary narrative is presented as a lecture delivered by the aging Russell in America near the end of his career. Hecklers in the audience want to know whether Russell, who was famous for his conscientious objections during the First World War, will join them in protesting America’s entry into the Second. Russell promises them their answer in the lecture, and these interactions, as Russell summarizes his career and offers insights on the role of logic in human affairs, bookend the first level narrative and interrupt it occasionally as audience members get rowdy or impatient.

This first narrative—the series of chronological flashbacks forming Russell’s lecture—is the main medium of the story telling in Logicomix. We see Russell as a young, troubled child in an authoritarian home finding the basis of truth and certainty in mathematics. As a student in Cambridge, Russell becomes obsessed with the logical foundations of mathematics, catalyzed by the 1900 challenge of David Hilbert and using the new logical formalism of Gottlob Frege to establish mathematics on completely rigorous, firm foundations. This is the work he spends the first decades of his career on, collaborating with Alfred North Whitehead to produce their Principia Mathematica, which—as Russell recounts wryly—took over 200 pages to prove that 1 plus 1 equals 2.

If this sounds like the stuff of esoteric mathematics, it is. But the success of Logicomix is making the story—which depends on the mathematics—both accessible and engaging. It provides enough of the technical details for the reader to get a conceptual notion of set theory, upon which Russell’s work rested, and the damning implications of Russell’s paradox, which undermined these very foundations. The narrative continues, always through Russell’s eyes though his own work leaves the center stage, to explore Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and the rise and fall of the Vienna Circle on the eve of the Second World War.

It’s not quite history (as the authors admit they’ve altered the timeline a bit to make Russell have meetings with characters that he likely never met), but it is a sweeping and effective story of people and their ideas. It’s not quite philosophy or mathematics either, but there’s enough of both to make Logicomix intellectually rich and rewarding—from the logical puzzles themselves (boiled down to their conceptual themes) to exploration of philosophical approaches to mathematics, contrasting Gödel’s Platonic to Poincare’s inductive to Wittgenstein’s linguistic approach to the true meaning of mathematics and its relation to the physical world or the human mind. It’s a story with meat on its bones, executed in bright, clean, understated art that brings the characters and the locales to life without overshadowing the concepts it explores.

As with history of thought done well, the book is as much about the people as the ideas with which they wrestled. One of the primary themes in is the question of the sort of mind or personality it takes to devote a life to wrestling with the basics of logic. We see this most with Russell and the background of madness he worked and fought against, as well as in the periphery characters of Cantor, Frege, Gödel, and Hilbert. The close relationship between madness and logic—as well as questions of the place of logic in life—are explored by Russell himself in the course of his lecture and by the authors and artists of the book as they make their appearance (and interact with the reader) throughout in the third “meta” level of the narrative.

It is this third level of narrative—and the balance it takes to run an additional narrative overtop of Russell’s lecture and his chronological flashbacks—that pushes Logicomix in some of its most interesting directions. This meta narrative represents the self-referential nature of the book itself (nicely complimenting the theme of paradox in logic arising through self-reference, as in the case of Russell’s set theory paradox and Gödel’s incompleteness theorem): the authors and artists are characters in their own book, working in modern Athens to write about Russell and the logical foundations of mathematics. We are invited into their studio to witness the discussions between them as they work. In this way, we simultaneously receive additional background to what happens before and after the events of the novel, the rational behind their specific approaches, and what we as readers are supposed to take from the story. As a bonus, we learn a lot about ancient Greek tragedy as well, which, tied elegantly to the discussion of logic and madness at the book’s conclusion, brings the work to its poignant conclusion.

Self-reference does not work well in logic and mathematical proof, but it does quite nicely in literature (The Neverending Story, Gene Wolfe’s Peace, and The Princess Bride immediately spring to mind). There are other parallels to draw between the axiomatic formalism of mathematics and the rules and consistency that govern storytelling, but that is a post for another time. Suffice it to say, Logicomix is incredibly rewarding and opens to door to a host of further readings in history, mathematics, philosophy, and logic, aided and abetted by the helpful reference section at the end. Not many books I read merit the creation of an entire new shelf of “to read” books on Goodreads, but this one did.

Joe the Barbarian

Joe the Barbarian Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s too not often that a book jumps off the shelf and grabs me, even though I always walk by bookshelves slowly enough to give the books plenty of opportunity. This usually happens when my wife and I find ourselves at our local Barnes and Noble. I used to feel I needed to spend time here in the history, science, or philosophy sections, just in case any students happened upon me. Now I gravitate more or less unashamedly to the graphic novels. I get grown-up books through inter-library loan when they’re not available in the public domain online, and it’s unlikely that B&N would have anything as specific as what I’m looking for anyway. But for an hour or so of casual perusal, something light, look for me in the ever-expanding graphic novel section.

Joe the Barbarian jumped off the shelf because it looked compelling and was a single volume stand-alone. (Who has the time to get invested in a serial? It’s all I can do to keep up with my beloved More than Meets the Eye.) The art is fabulous and the story is the perfect surrealist-fantasy trope, blending the lines between realism and magic in the way especially suited for graphic representation. I read half of it in a single sitting. A month or so later, when it was time to buy comic books for my brother-in-law’s birthday, I picked up two obligatory Batman titles and then perched in the magazine section with this volume once again. After getting about two-thirds of the way through it, I realized he would love it as much as I did. So I bought it, brought it home and read it, made my wife read it, and only then wrapped it.

It really is nearly flawless. Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy create a tale in which the boy-hero’s real-world home flows seamlessly into a fantasy world that mirrors and epically extends his house. The main character is Joe, who upon waking from a nap in his attic bedroom finds that he may be having a diabetic episode caused by lack of sugar or may have been transported into a magical realm. Or both. Aspects of both worlds blend back and forth. Joe has to make his way downstairs to get a soda, or he has to free the realm in which he finds himself from the darkening grip of Lord Death. Either way, the lights are going out, and Joe wanders downward through rooms and corridors and crypts and wastelands. His pet rat, Jack, becomes his companion, guide, and defender, the warrior-rat (very like I always imagined my Battle Beasts) Chakk. In the bathroom, he meets Sewer Pirates. Near the fireplace, he rests at Castle Hearth. The wonder of seeing a home through a child’s eyes, of watching Joe move back and forth between his real house and its fantastic echo, somehow reveals the magic hidden in the walls of any safe and beloved place.

There are darker aspects at play too. In the background, behind the very real crisis of Joe being home alone and possibly in serious medical trouble, there is the larger situation: his father, a soldier, has died, leaving him and his mother with a home they may not be able to save. Joe’s powerlessness in the face of these circumstances is mirrored in his hallucinations. In the magical realm he is known as the Dying Boy, a hero foreordained to defeat Lord Death, though he does not know how. There is a quest. There are friends and foes. There are spectacular vistas. There are broken doorways and falls down staircases and all the perils of childhood.

The graphic novel this reminded me of most was I Kill Giants, though whereas that was a sketch of childhood fear against the threat of cancer, this feels more complete, drawn out, and—in reality—far more colorful. It also reminded me of Gene Wolfe’s Peace, the novel in which the dead narrator wanders through rooms in a mansion that may simply be memories in his own dead skull, or The High House by James Stoddard, in which an English mansion contains limitless worlds.

I finished this book with tears in my eyes. That doesn’t happen often.

Rice Boy

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About a month ago, the website io9 ran a very dangerous story. It was a list along with short descriptions of 17 completed science fiction and fantasy web comics. I spent some time perusing it, knowing that they represented at least 17 potential worlds to fall into but that I couldn’t read them all. Their description of Evan Dahm’s Rice Boy as “fantasy word-building with a heavy dose of the surreal” caught me though, so I gave it a shot. I was not disappointed.

I have a few favorite web comics (Hark a Vagrant and David Troupe’s Buttercup Festival top my list), but reading a full-on graphic novel in a web medium was a new experience for me. I can see the appeal that such a form has for the creator and the freedom it affords. Ideally it allows an artist more creative freedom, without editors or publishers. It also seems a fairly smart business model: build a following by allowing people to read it for free, and then offer hard-copy version for sale. (This is the same model used by online services from WordPress to Spotify: those who pay the premium fees, along with advertisers, subsidize the cost that allows it to be free for everyone else.) As the io9 article indicates, there are a lot of talented individuals out there building graphical worlds along these lines.

Dahm’s Rice Boy is colorful and surreal. It follows the travels of the machine man The One Electronic (T-O-E), an agent of God looking to find the fulfiller of an ancient prophecy, and Rice Boy, a small, meek, polite, uh, thing, who may or may not be said fulfiller. Like any classical fantasy-quest story, there is lots of running around to lots of different ancient and magical realms. Interesting characters are met, words of magic are spoken, enemies gather, and the prophecy is fulfilled, though of course not in the way you expect. If that all sounds like fairly standard fantasy fare, it is. Indeed, the running hither and yon as Rice Boy slowly learns more about the history of Overside (the world in which the tale is set) and his own past gets a bit tedious, especially as Rice Boy himself seems to lack all agency until the very final chapter of the work.

What saves Dahm’s work though, indeed what makes it quite wonderful, is that this fairly standard fantasy trope is told through completely enchanting visuals. Imagine a fantasy epic set in the various vistas of Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go or Oh the Thinks You Can Think and you have a starting point. Dahm’s world is vibrant, and it’s easy to set aside you frustration as Rice Boy is sent off to meet yet another mysterious figure in yet another distant land, because every place he visits is beautiful and singularly new. Really, Seuss’s worlds are the closest thing I can compare this to, though in Dahm’s work the whimsy of Seuss is supplemented by eerie loneliness and haunting vastness. This isn’t a place to rhyme about whether or not the sneetch has a star on its chest; this is a place to fight the Bleach Beast and venture into the foreboding desert of Skorch.

If the landscapes lack a Seussian whimsy, Dahm finds it again in his characters. Besides the innocence of Rice Boy himself (who reminds me randomly enough of the main character of Troupe’s Buttercup Festival), this land is filled with creatures who both in their friendliness and cuddliness might have tumbled off of an Ugly Dolls display. That’s not to say there are no villains. We have creepy black assassins and a frog army as well as some monsters, but Dahm’s bright colors and clear drawing style seem more suited for squishy friend than scaly foe.

Rice Boy is Dahm’s first complete tale set in his world of Overside, and on his website you can find another complete epic (this one in black and white) as well as his current, uncompleted project. And this is the real danger or gift of online web comics. Once you venture down that rabbit hole and realize how many talented folks there are out there continually creating worlds, where does it end?

It doesn’t, I suppose, and that’s kind of the point.