June 6, 2017

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All Ages or Small Ages #30 (Ruinworld #1 by Derek Laufman)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

Ruinworld marks creator Derek Laufman’s first attempts at performing the comic writing duties alongside his usual artistic efforts and, if this first issue is any indication, Laufman is a true talent. With mainstream experience at companies such as Marvel and Hasbro, as well as serving as the co-founder of the mobile game company Halfbot, Laufman is no stranger to creation and that shows in his efforts here.



Ruinworld tells the story of adventuring duo Rex and Pogo, who are a fox/cat hybrid and a pig respectively, as they stumble across an ancient artefact that looks to change their lives forever. It feels right that this feature’s return to its regular format is the beginning of an epic, fantastical adventure. That's not to infer that this column will unfold with any degree of the same majesty, but Ruinworld has an unfair advantage: all of the characters are adorably compressed, anthropomorphic animals.

To get my bias out in the open as quickly as possible, there is a very special place in my heart for media that portrays animals doing human things; it's inherently adorable in a very particular way. This component alone makes it perfectly suited to the younger audience, as they can frolic in the whimsical characters and not worry about the actual plot. At this point, it's worth noting that while this is the quality that also drew me to this title, the story has a remarkable amount more to offer to those who go looking for it.


The first thing that jumps out at you as you read through this issue is how dense it feels. While due in part to the ample speech and narration that litters the panels, as Laufman does not fall into the large-font trap that many all-ages titles do, there is an inherent depth to the world and to the characters that demonstrates how much thought and care has gone into building this world from the ground-up.

While a large portion of the book is dedicated to discovering the aforementioned artefact that will propel our burgeoning adventurers forwards, there is a flashback to a bustling market town that immediately feels alive with activity. As the character, a bug named Barri, strolls through the streets and ends up in a back-alley, he passes countless unnamed characters, all with their own unique designs, inviting so many questions about this world that we will likely never see answered. As a reader who thrives on picking apart the details of ancillary moments, there is a lot about this issue that speaks to me.


Fortunately, the main characters themselves possess a richness that mirrors the world around them. Rex has the arrogance and bravado of a character that alludes to a damaged past and a deeply insecure young man, which stands in contrast to the hopeless optimism from his desperate-to-please companion. It’s a classic pairing of characters in a mutual insecurity that will always pay off dividends down the line.

Similarly, the length of this series feels as yet undetermined, but in an entirely positive manner. For books with a defined ending, you can usually identify the key story beats that will unfold through the narrative, but the way that Laufman so effectively tantalises this broad word and everything that could unfold in it heightens the appeal. It’s difficult to say if this will a story about an adventuring duo forever, or if it will grow slowly to become an ensemble book; one of the most enticing things that a story can be is indecipherable.


Although the artistic style would make you assume a consistently light-hearted book, although it does deliver on that in spades, there's also a hidden layer of disquiet behind the frivolity. Laufman introduces a subplot with an underworld loan-shark that has darker implications than there is time to explore in this first issue, as well as dealing with the morality of eating meat in a world where animals are walking and talking beings.

If the endearing animals and winding plotlines aren't enough to convince you to buy this book, Laufman has a tremendous knack for action. His page layouts are dynamic even when the characters are talking-heads, so when everything starts to hit the fan for our characters, his abilities really kick in. Framing scenes from unique perspectives while not losing any of the clarity that you need for an action scene is a hard skill that Laufman already appears to be a master of.

I went into this book expecting to be mildly entertained by a fun romp with a group of anthropomorphic fantasy characters, but what I discovered was so much more. This is a book that might slip through the cracks due to the facade of adorably dressed ragamuffins that take prominence on the cover. What sits inside the cover is the opening few bars for a song that will build to a frantic/legendary crescendo, sucking us all along for the ride.

And, of course, there’ll be animals doing human things, which is always absolutely delightful.

You can pre-order a print copy of Ruinworld on Derek Laufman's site here or pick up a digital copy right now!

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mcdickson101@gmail.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.