June 19, 2014

, , , , , ,   |  

The Legend of Bold Riley Volume 1

Written by Leia Weathington
Line Art by the following:
Leia Weathington (Prologue)
Vanessa Gillings (The Blue God)
Jason Thompson (The Serpent in the Belly)
Marco Aidala (The Strange Bath)
Konstantin Pogorelov (The Wicked Temple)
Kelly McClellan (The Golden Trumpet Tree)
Color Art by the following:
Leia Weathington (Prologue, The Blue God)
Vanessa Gillings (The Serpent in the Belly)
Chloe Dalquest (The Strange Bath)
Konstantin Pogorelov and Liz Conley (The Wicked Temple)
Kelly McClellan (The Golden Trumpet Tree)
Published by Northwest Press


A young princess named Rilavashana gives up her royal claims to the Prakkalore throne to make a name for herself exploring the wider world, as younger siblings often do. Experiencing triumphs, loves, and losses, the journey of the adventurer known as Bold Riley begins here in this collection of stories.

Art by Leia Weathington
As Ms. Weathington discussed in her interview with me a few months ago for the Kickstarter of Volume 2, part of what makes this series stand out is that the main character is not the typical young, straight, white man who finds his purpose in life. There are plenty of stories like that out there, and some of them are quite good. But with Bold Riley, Weathington is able to take the same concept and apply it to a woman who is just as brash, confident, and headstrong--and has just as much affection for women as the typical male protagonist.

Bold Riley would be an important and notable series if all it did was provide a way for women and people of color to see someone who looks like them out there having the same adventures usually reserved for white, male protagonists. Instead of a queer character with an unrelentingly bleak narrative, Weathington sends Riley off to have thrills and live life to the fullest. Sure, she experiences hard moments, but they relate to her chosen lifestyle of a wanderer, not because of her gender, race, or sexuality.

We're slowly seeing more of this in comics and genre fiction, but it's still something to draw attention to. Especially when the story is so good. Take everything out of the equation and Bold Riley is just good comics, period.

Art by Kelly McClellan
After starting off by introducing the character and the fact that she's ill-suited for the life of a royal family member, Weathington sends Riley off, leaving her family behind with only a note. Soon she's facing gods and evil spirits and other concepts that are right out of the Robert E. Howard playbook. It's very clear that, like me, Weathington grew up on pulp stories and fantasy adventures and has a strong appreciation for them. Her story structure would not be out of place at all in an old issue of Weird Tales. The difference is that instead of racial stereotypes and purple prose, Leia provides varied characters with depth and strength, regardless of race or gender, who speak naturally. Though the tone is quite different, it's not unlike Antony Johnston's Umbral in that regard.

Only the narrative boxes retain a hint of the old style, and even those are used sparingly to set scenes. Weathington is able to take the concepts and ideas she clearly loved and find a way to update them. This is not as easy to do as it sounds. Many have tried and failed, either by making the concepts too modern or by slavishly recreating the cringe-worthy parts of Howard, Lovecraft, Cave, and their peers. Leia knows that Riley must be constantly moving, drawn into danger head-first, and that seemingly simple encounters should always lead to battles that only a hero born can win. Bold Riley is filled to the brim with such tales, and it's an absolute joy to read.

The art of Bold Riley varies from story to story, thanks to the use of a wide range of artists. Read in single issue form (the original publication format), it might not have been quite as noticeable, but in a collection, the different styles and abilities of those doing the line work do present themselves. The changes in Riley's look may be a bit off-putting to some readers, especially those who are used to seeing one artist on a particular book, especially one by a small press like Northwest.

Art by Jason Thompson
Weathington herself only draws the prologue, though she does color the remaining stories. Her pages are more cramped and claustrophobic than those of the following stories, as befits the feelings Riley has about living in the city. There's a lot of great framing work that helps to pack so many faces and images into the introductory pages. Weathington has to do the heavy lifting of creating this new fantasy world, which relies heavily on Indian themes and styles of dress/decoration.

From this opening point, Riley then encounters the most adventurous of jobs--watching goats! Naturally, things are more than they seem, as so often happens in stories such as this one. Vanessa Gillings allows the transition from normal setting to a battle with magical creatures to progress slowly, but when we get to the crucial moments, she picks just the right angles and moments in time to tell the story. The idea of a vanquished foe giving out a curse or a big character reveal are portrayed to maximize the impact.

Jason Thompson's take on Riley makes her feel younger than Weathington and Gillings, with a strong influence from manga, especially in regards to the eyes, mouths, and general body language. His art also features much more careful detailing, such as drawing every blade of grass or gingerbread architectural work. Gillings' color palette is also less vibrant than Weathington's. This might have been my favorite of the stories collected here, because of Thompson's strong artwork and the complexity of the rabbit hole plot that Riley must investigate in order to satisfy a promise made in a lover's bed. It's textbook pulp adventure and a great comic, too.

The linework in "The Strange Bath" from Marco Aidala is far different than the others in the collection. It reminded me a bit of John Buscema if his work was published from rough pencils, with straight lines coming together to form everything from faces to horses to houses. The unrefined quality works well here, because this is the breather story, a lighthearted romp involving a bath, a ghost, and a lack of modesty.

Watercolor work from Konstantin Pogorelov gives the chapter, "The Wicked Temple," another distinctive look. Painted over loose sketch lines, it means there are streaks of white paper in between the muted yellows, greens, blues, and other colors. This works well for the story, a tale of an ancient temple where women lurk who want to cater to Riley's every whim--and anyone who reads these types of stories know that's never good!

Love is in the air in The Golden Trumpet Tree, where Riley finds herself truly smitten with a healer who has ties to the trees around her. She's beautiful, and Kelly McClellan's lines and color are soft and rounded to capture this feeling for the reader. Her faces show kindness and sadness, and that undercurrent of pleasure mixed with sorrow is perfect for a tale in which Riley knows loss unlike she's ever felt before. Her rage knows no bounds as this story concludes the volume on an ominous note that sets the stage for the next series of adventures.

The great thing about the range of artists is that once the reader gets over the changes in character design, it's easy to see, as I described above, why each creator/creators worked perfectly for that section. While Weathington's dense constructions were perfect for a city story, it would have made, say, the closing narrative look very different. Each artist gets to play to their strengths, showing that Leia, an artist herself, understands how the visuals of a story can change the way in which it is perceived.

I absolutely loved The Legend of Bold Riley Volume 1, and my only regret is not reading it sooner. This is what 21st Century sword and sorcery should look like, and I'm so happy that a second volume of stories has already begun. As long as the quality of plotting, character, and art remains this strong, Weathington has the potential to carve out a name for herself as one of the greats of the genre, in comics or otherwise.

You can pick up a copy of Bold Riley directly from Northwest Press here.