(Image Comics, 2014)
Writer – Chris Roberson
Artist – Paul Maybury
Colors – Paul Maybury, with Jordan Gibson & Brad Simpson
Letters – John J. Hill
As a writer and occasional fan of science fiction and fantasy, I have of course read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, two benchmark books in the creation on sustainability of a fictional world. To instill a sense of reality and solidity in a complete fiction is a mountainous realm of improbability. How do you make it feel real while continuing to keep it interesting? Tolkien knew how, and I think that Chris Roberson has the inkling as well.
Roberson (Edison Rex, iZombie) releases the second issue of Sovereign from Image this week. Mr. Roberson has a history of story-telling and indie comic books, being half of the comic power couple that founded Monkeybrain Comics. (The other half is the wonderful Allison Baker.) With Sovereign he is delving deep into a type of world-building that we don’t see often in comics anymore, and he’s doing it in a way that make it a little easier to wrap your head around.
Sovereign #1 and #2 have focused on three groups and their separate journeys towards Khend, the Romanesque capital of this tale and center of learning, culture, and wealth. There reside the Horselords, who have ruled there for all memory. Janramir, Zafir, and Qatir are the three sons of a recently dead king, all of whom desire a throne that was not specified for any one of them.
There are also the Luminari. These seem to be a caste of wise people and sorcerers, men and women who remember the “old ways”. (They remind me of the warrior monks from old Japanese movies.) They are feared or welcomed depending on the people they encounter.
Lastly there is Goodman Ravenstone, a young man who is a little Puritan and a little psychic/scholar in training. He too travels to Khend, though at this point it seems that his motives are pretty mundane compared to the others. It seems like a scholarly pilgrimage, as one once did when traveling to Alexandria. You go where the books are and the most learned people in the world will be there as well.
The art in Sovereign lies more in the indie arena than is common for most mainstream comics, but I think that it’s a sign of the times. I think we’ll see more of this kind of non-conformist art in the future because small indie publishers are getting a wider audience. Paul Maybury (Catalyst Comix, Blue Estate) adds his artistic spin on Sovereign, which reminds me a bit of the Rankin/Bass cartoons of the 70’s, Lord of the Rings etc. It works for the story as well as drawing that subliminal line through our brains and making that connection. Maybury draws some crowd scenes in the second book that are hugely detailed, a study in tenacity when others might just darken some background faces.
Chris Roberson has built a mythos around his story, and with the added “history” at the back you find that there is homework done as well. I heard once that Tolkien had mountains of papers describing the genealogies of his characters, and I think that Roberson may be in peril of those same avalanches of pulp. He immerses you in the story just as Tolkien did. “Throw ‘em in, sink or swim.” You get over the strangeness of the names and places quickly when you’re forced to just accept that they “are”. Sovereign is a study in world building, and Roberson has the scratch paper to prove it.
Brad Gischia is a writer and artist living in the frozen Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is married and has three kids and a dog, who all put up with his incessant prattling about comic books.