Good fantasy stories follow rules. Which is to say, the stories take place within worlds that bend reality’s rules yet remain internally consistent. In some cases, these stories even go so far as to make their world’s rules central to their narrative – which is the case in Kamome Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier.
However, the best fantasy stories are not content to spell out and stick to their rules. Instead, the best fantasies break their rules in surprising, dramatic, and often foreshadowed ways. Which again, is what Witch Hat Atelier does. More than anything else, it is Witch Hat Atelier‘s constant, clever focus on breaking and bending its own rules that makes it worth reading.
Because I am who I am, I inevitably receive a gaggle of fantastic comics each Christmas. This year, my friends and family gifted me four wonderful books, and while I have not yet finished all of them, I figured I’d post my initial thoughts on each here – as both a thank you to my loved ones, and a way of telling you all where you should spend the Amazon and Barnes & Noble gift cards you received for Christmas. (Yes, I received some of those, too.)
Friend, secret Santa, and regular Waiting on the Trade co-host Callum Smith started Christmas early by sending over the first volume of Head Lopper. I know this comic has been on Cal’s shortlist of “comics to discuss on the podcast” for some time, and after reading it myself, I can see why. This book does a ton of things that are right up Cal and my’s respective alleys, within a sword and sorcery world that’s easiest to pitch as a mash-up of Hellboy and Adventure Time.
The titular Head Lopper does, of course, lop heads. And if you’re into colorful, kinetic, D&D-style action, you’ll definitely find it here. However, I suspect Cal is particularly fond of this book because he loves Agatha the Blue Witch – an absurdly comic personality who is just a head, yet is one of the story’s most animated characters. While I have not quite finished this first volume (which is partly Cal’s fault, as you’ll see later), Head Lopper is a real treat. I’m stoked to discuss this comic with Cal and WOTT co-host Patrick FitzGerald-Fleck at some point later this year, especially because I think Pat will love the fantasy-novel-style maps that precede each chapter.
One Holly Jolly Panel
I can’t connect with most cosmic superhero comics. To me, the word “cosmic” is shorthand for visual bombast, overly-complex politics, and extended metaphors that writers and artists rely on in place of crafting compelling characters. That’s why, even with current-best-Marvel-writer Al Ewing attached, I wasn’t sure I was going to love the most recent volume of Guardians of the Galaxy.
However, Guardians 2020 is clever, touching, and most definitely a character piece – while still delivering the bombast and spectacle that cosmic comic fans desire.
I have not written in months. Or rather, I have not written anything of much consequence. I’ve written for my day job, and I’ve posted here. But my personal work, the stories I must ply from my heart and mind, have largely sat untouched.
While reading Blue In Green, I figured out why I have not lately touched my personal work. It is because consequential work, work of the type I would like to produce, demands effort and sacrifice. It demands a level of commitment I cannot currently achieve. Hovering in a liminal state during perhaps the most liminal month of my most liminal year, it is taking most everything I have to continue being a partner, a friend, an employee, a son, and a brother. I cannot be a writer, too.
So I understood exactly how Erik Dieter felt when the pale man offered him a choice in New York City. Dieter simply wanted to cut through life’s bullshit, while he was still young and alive, and create something that felt real. Something that felt great.
It is ironic that, where Erik Dieter failed, Blue In Green succeeds. Ram V, Anand RK, John Pearson, Aditya Bidikar, and Tom Muller have created something great, while commenting on the very act of artistic creation.
I have read too many stories to be shocked by most of them anymore. But the first volume of Sleepless subverted my expectations in such a way that I feel compelled to recommend it to you, dear reader, so that you also can spend ten minutes flipping back and forth between Sleepless‘s final pages, your jaw hanging agape at what has just occurred.
I will not spoil Sleepless Vol. 1’s ending in this review, because I think you should feel that ending’s power for yourself. But I will talk about how Sleepless builds to that ending in ways that both set it up and make it surprising, paying off the book’s main points of tension.