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20May/150

Panel Mania: Fighting Tooth and Claw in “The Autumnlands”

For my birthday week I couldn't resist featuring one of my current favourites, The Autumnlands!

This is a must-read book for all fantasy fans, and all animal fans too. Dewey is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.

The past and future collide in The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw, an anthropomorphic high-fantasy epic from New York Times best-selling writer Kurt Busiek and rising star artist Ben Dewey.

Opening in the floating wicker city of Keneil, “westernmost of the Seventeen Cities Above the Plain”, and home to protagonist Dunstan, a cast of wondrous animal characters threading through the fantastical setting is an incredible feast for the eyes.

Skunks, tortoises, bears, snakes, birds and more populate this world, dressed in fine period cloaks, and all of a more or less equal size. Dunstan, a young bull terrier known as Dusty to his friends, follows his father on his trade-master duties, learning more about the world he inhabits as the reader follows in his steps.

It soon becomes apparent that the magic which governs this land is fading, and that the folk living in the cities consider themselves superior to the ground-dwelling bison who provide them with food in return for meagre helpings of healing magic. As wizards conspire to summon forth a Great Champion of the past to save them from ruin, Dusty’s life changes forever.

Busiek, best known as the creator of his own multiple-award winning series Astro City, and as a prolific writer of superhero comics, has been waiting ten long years to unleash this new series upon the world, a period of gestation that is reflected in the extraordinary detailed world building that is slowly unfolding.

Class and cultural tensions underline the developing story, with Dusty’s position as a privileged but naïve youngster making him a perfect point of view character as he learns things about his own world - no need then for masses of exposition dumped upon the reader.

Dewey, an artist hailing from Portland, is less well known than his co-creator, though The Autumnlands will undoubtedly elevate him to the top rank of comic artists. His previous most notable works, the Eisner Award nominated I Was The Cat with Paul Tobin, and his 4 year long Tragedy Series webcomic recently collected (The Complete Collection of The Tragedy Series: Secret Lobster Claws and Other Misfortunes) both share a love of anthropomorphic animal characters, rendered in realistic form with cleverly cartoonish expressions where appropriate.

The artist’s background as a trained painter is most evident in the two page introduction that accompanies each chapter – a lavish painted scene complete with prose extract from a faux pulp sword and sorcery novel describing events relevant to the story and world – which brings to mind fond memories of the most exquisite illustrated adventure stories.

There are hints of other delicious influences in Dewey’s work too, from the dynamic characters and effects of the legendary Jack Kirby to the minimalist clear lines of Mike Mignola (Hellboy). It is rare to find an artist equally at home with character work and incredible bombastic magic sequences, but Dewey’s eye is faultless, designing intricate cityscapes, rugged scenic landscapes, and peppering every scene with a myriad of detailed characters.

What really sells this book though is the coloring work of the award winning Jordie Bellaire. The coloring of magic in particular is eye-popping and oscillating between realistic and fantastic palettes, she draws the very best from Dewey’s linework. The teamwork of the Comicraft letterers too draw the book further into high-fantasy territory, with lower case dialogue and borderless speech balloons providing a truly immersive experience.

With a pace to savour in this collection of the first six issues, fans will be delighted to know that The Autumnlands is planned as a long-running series.

Read the full preview here: Fighting Tooth and Claw in "The Autumnlands"

The Autumnlands

The Autumnlands