January 16, 2014

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A Voyage to Panjikant 1

Written and Illustrated by Marguerite Dabaie
Self-Published

It's never easy to be a pre-teen growing up, no matter what the circumstances. But when you're Vandak, with the weight of your father's business on your developing shoulders, things are a lot worse in this coming of age story set during the days of the Silk Road.

It's always amazing to me when I hear about how a creator has spent years of research on a project, but I don't think I've ever had one of those turn out to be anything other than amazing when I sat down to read it. Passion for a subjects tends to lead to quality, and this first issue of writer-artist Marguerite Debaie is no exception. She notes in the after material, manga-style, that she's been working on this one for over two years, starting with a fascination with the clothing (well deserved, as you'll see in the samples I included in this review) and turning into this longer work.

Most of this issue is set-up, as first issues tend to be, and Debaie admits to this, promising more for the characters to do in the next issue. Still, it's an intriguing beginning, as we learn about this seventh century family and some of the cultural issues that could drive future conflict or storylines. Like any child, Vandak chafes at having to leave his freedom behind, especially when it means getting stuck doing a job that his father got by not being the son who inherited the best parts of his father's estate.


Some of the lavish coloring and detail from Ms. Dabaie.
Little things like that give depth and history to the story, and will definitely pay dividends as this one moves along. We get a history lesson, too, but it doesn't feel like an information dump because of the way the plot is situated. The discussion of culture and etiquette drive the story's punchline, where a punished Vandak gets his revenge by ruining his outfit and bringing stench into his father's home. It's a nice touch of rebellion, and quite possibly a problem for the obsessive father who needs him to be perfect--an impossible task, especially for one so young.

I really enjoyed the story here, even if admittedly there could have been a bit more in the first issue. But the true draw to this book is the detailed illustrative work by Marguerite. As you can see from the cover and the images I've shown here, there is so much to linger over on every page.

The deathbed scene of Vandak's grandfather is a great example of this. We can start out with the page layout, with the faded image of the patrons (possibly gods, but it's not specified and my knowledge on this is pitifully small) framing the background and pointing towards the dead body. His family is arranged in a line, at a slight angle, to hold visual interest, and they show different stages and styles of grief. The grandfather is next, also at an angle, his coloring different from everyone else, so he stands out, and then we end with the final inset image that brings up a painful reality after his passing.

That style alone would be praise-worthy, but add on top the fact that each character in the splash page is wearing a different form of dress (right down to the patrons), and the coloring and patterns shows that this is a world not unlike our own. Where others might have put the mourners in drag outfits, Dabaie uses this opportunity to show the culture, without distracting from the main story.

And if that's not enough--look at the pattern on that green blanket! 

Look at the clothing!
All of the pages of Voyage to Panjikant feature this level of detailing. There's no skimping on backgrounds, which often have tapestries or murals. Even when we get close-ups, there's coloring or other methods of making the art feel full and lush. For a mini-comic, this is a bit unusual, as backgrounds tend to be bland, even in color-printed versions.

Quality like this deserves as much attention as it can get. Though the price point is a bit higher ($5.50 on Etsy) than I'd normally recommend for a comic that's only 20 pages, but the detail and rich coloring on this one make it worth the investment. A multi-talented creator who also makes jewelry and pillows, Dabaie's got a great new series on her hands, and I look forward to more.

You can buy A Voyage to Panjikant 1 here.