YOHANCE-THE EKANGENI CRYSTAL- by Paul Louise Julie

I’m always on the look out for something new and creative, so when I heard that there was going to be a space opera inspired by African art, I thought ‘count me in.’ I waited for months in anticipation.  So now that it’s finally out, what was it like? Well, so far it’s only really the opening action sequence- but is it one hell of an action sequence with amazing use of art.

As you can probably see from the cover the graphic novel, the art work is extremely distinctive and looks great. I’ve never seen another graphic novel with art quite like that. The aesthetic combines African tribal artwork and designs with your typical star wars space opera design to create a slight variation on your typical space opera aesthetic. Not only that, but he also has an interesting use of colours: using bright reds or blues to give the planets a really unnatural, otherworldly atmosphere.

Stylistically, there’s a lot of improvement from his work on The Packabout how he uses the layout. Part of the strength also lies in how it’s formatted. It will often give you a massive picture of the environment and have a few smaller panels scattered around honing in on certain details or cutting away to a character in the ship. This gives it a really cinematic feel, and you genuinely feel like you’e watching a switching from shot to shot. It’ll often go from a bigger picture of the background . I mean, look at this.

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As your eyes dark from image to image it’s like different camera angles.The dialogue is also short, sparse and doesn’t clutter the page. This leads to a very streamlike reading experience and allows you to focus on the artwork and what’s going on in the page. This whole first issue plays out like a storyboard that’s better than the actual movie could ever be. There’s so much improvement from his first issue of The Pack in how he uses the page’s layout to his advantage, and it’s great to see him coming into his own.

However, there is one aspect of the art that changes this comic from flawless to  hit and miss, and it’s a big problem: the character designs. Mr Louise Julie has made this baffling choice of photo shopping a human’s face onto his character model, and it makes them look like some horrendous uncanny valley monstrosity. Like with a lot of his work with The Pack, he manages to cover this up by avoiding having people’s faces close up by focusing on the scenery, obscuring them by shadows or light, or by having the perspective so far away from the characters that you can’t see them properly. He gets away with it for the most part  (and Yohance is in his suit most of the time), but then we’ll get a close up of his badly photo shopped face and oh man….

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Look at the gorgeous design of the robot monkey when contrasted against that face. You know what this expression reminds me of?

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I don’t want to be reading this  action sequence and suddenly see angry baby! I mean, my God- the way it’s photo shopped is so awful. It doesn’t help that when we do get a close up he’s always pulling the most derpiest expression and he reminds me of one of those actors on those BBC shows for toddlers. It just pulls me out of the action and I have to try and ignore it before continuing- and that’s something you really don’t want for your main protagonist. It’ll be hard to get emotionally invested in later issues when the main characters are an eyesore to look at.

I’ve pondered why such an obviously astoundingly talented artist could put something so god awful in something so beautiful, and the only solution I can come up is that he’s great with backgrounds and lighting, but either he isn’t an expert at rendering faces or  his art style doesn’t lend to rendering expressive faces and he’s trying to compensate for it. Either way, this is not the way forward.

Now, onto the characters themselves. So far, we don’t know really know that much about them apart from the sci fi archetypes they embody. Yohance so far is the double crossing Rogue with the animal robot sidekick… Yes, he’s your Han Solo, your Captain Mal, your Spike Spiegel and every other galaxy hopping space scoundrel you’ve read about. Our heroine, Cana, isn’t a Black Leia Organa or Padme Amidala (like I was secretly hoping based on the cover art), but  she’s a rogue as well, and she and Yohance have a Captain Mal/ Saffron dynamic going on.

There’s nothing to distinguish them just yet, and their characters are very derivative, but it’s only the first issue and judging from what I’ve seen, the creator clearly has enough writing skill to make them interesting later on. I’m glad he didn’t try to do too much in one issue, and I’m glad he took his time to create a really memorable opening sequence.

Now there’s one other major landmine of a flaw with this book: the  price. I was so excited about this book that I purchased it right away and unusually (suspisciously) it didn’t tell me the page count, but judging by the price I expected it to be around about 130 pages. Yeah, I paid £7.70 ($9.43 for any Americans reading) for 39 pages. 39 pages. I have purchased a lot of graphic novels, comics and manga on and I’ve never had to pay anything like this for a kindle edition.

I mean come on, I know this is an independent project and the guy’s gotta eat, but not only is this insane for a digital copy (the price is what I’d expect for a hard back edition), but this is financially unviable. I don’t know how long the series is going to be (but considering all we’ve had is the opening action sequence and we’ve only barely set up the plot, it’s going to be a good few issues), but who can pay £7.70 for what is essentially an opening sequence? And pay that for each installment? Not many people are going to be able to afford that, and since he’s an Indie publisher without the fan base of companies like DC and Marvel, he can’t really afford to charge a ridiculous amount- especially since he’s not big name yet. I personally don’t regret it- the artwork is gorgeous and it’s something I’ll gladly flip through again- but I can’t pay that price for each future issue.

VERDICT: This is an immensely strong start . However, because of how ridiculously expensive this is, I can’t recommend that anyone by this and I’d suggest either waiting for this to go down in price or for it to be collected in a larger volume. However, if you’ve got the cash to burn and you’re really desperate for an African themed sci fi, than I can assure you the quality is top notch. Also, for more of his amazing art work and a series centred around African aesthetic that’s more sensibly priced, I’d recommend giving his work on The Pack a look.

REVIEW: THE PACK VOL.2- by Paul Louise Julie

First we had werewolves mixed with Ancient Egyptian mythology, centering around Nubian characters. Here, we get introduced to were crocodiles, Akhenatan, and a potential new female lead.

In my last review of the Pack (which is here), I said that the artwork was astounding, but the story was unnecessarily disjointed and it was extremely difficult to tell the characters apart due to them constantly being obscured by light and shadow. Well, I’m happy to report that the story has improved around the board.

The artwork is still achingly beautiful, and by God, some of the scenery. I mean check this out and tell me that’s not one of the most beautiful background images you’ve ever seen:

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This spread is dizzyingly beautiful and although this is by far the most impressive piece of artwork in the book, the rest of it looks great. Louise-Julie’s artwork is far better utilised than before. He’s lost his aversion to drawing faces and I can tell everyone apart now. Although the faces aren’t exactly beautiful to look at, they’re still very human and expressive, and really do fit in with the art work.

The panel organisation is a lot better now as there’s more rhyme and reason to their placement. Before, the placement was a bit chaotic and the action sequences felt cluttered. Here, the action sequences are more linear and you can tell what’s going on. Not only that, but we’ll also have the light and space used to the story’s advantage, like we can see below with the eerie unnatural blue being used to create a spooky, almost nightmarish atmosphere for our werewolf fight sequence.

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The story telling is also far more polished than it was in the last issue. Gone was the nonsensical jumping between beginning and end, and no longer is it defined by the ludicrous plot point that the brothers split up for no apparent reason. Now, we’re at a point where the brothers have met up, the younger brother Khenti, and they’re planning to escape to Nubia, but are attacked by Egyptians and Khenti is forced to go full werewolf on them, as can be seen above.

There’s actually some nice bonding going on between the brothers, and it’s good to see them developed more now that the story’s slowed down. Not only that, but we’re also introduced to what looks like is going to be our big bad: historical pharaoh Akhenatan, the man who was to Ancient Egyptian religion what Henry VIII was to Christianity. We get a bit about a pivotal moment in his life- when his father was a complete badass and saved him from a crocodile, telling him everything submits to the Pharoah. Considering that his only actions in this comic seem to be tyrannical, it looks like we might be heading for a chaotic evil villain with a God Complex, and an ‘even a God King can bleed’ 300 style take down, but it’s still too early to say.

We’re introduced to the idea of an Anubis Cult- which wasn’t surprising, considering we have human/ wolf monsters in ancient Egypt, and jackal headed Anubis is the closest yo get to a werewolf myth. Not only that, but we have another shifter- evil crocodile shifter, Gharis, who works for the Pharoah and may be ‘the dragon’ (basically a really powerful minion of the main villain- what Darth Vader is to The Emporor and what Princess Azula was to The Fire Lord in ATLA.)

The storytelling is still extremely straight forward and simple, but it works and it allows the art work to shine.

VERDICT: Second issue in and already Paul Louise-Julie has improved by leaps and bounds in terms of storytelling and the way he uses his layout and artwork to maximum effect. I look forward to seeing where this story will go.