Artesia Afire #1-3

By Mark Smylie
32 pages, color
Published by Archaia Studios Press

It’s hard to launch a fantasy series in comics. It seems like it would be a natural marriage of art form and genre, but somehow the two never seem to connect very well. Maybe it’s because of the number of failed “light fantasy” series, with pretty unicorns and elves and fairy princesses who traipse around the world in gossamer outfits. Meanwhile, books by authors like Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin continue to burn up the best-sellers charts in prose, proving that there’s certainly a market for well-written fantasy out there. Maybe what comics needs are more series like Mark Smylie’s Artesia, which show that it can work if you’ve just got the right material it can be golden.

Once she was the daughter of a witch, forced to flee her home lest she also be put to death. Once she was a concubine to a king. Now she leads armies and has claimed a throne in her own name. She leads an army for the Highlands of Daradja, to help the nearby Middle Kingdoms against invaders. Her name is Artesia, but as she keeps discovering, absolutely nothing in her life is simple.

I recently sat down and read a whole lot of Artesia comics (the Artesia and Artesia Afield collections, followed by Artesia Afire #1-3) and I think what struck me the most about Smylie’s writing is that there are no easy choices in his Book of Dooms series. Artesia is never given something simple where you can just nod and say, “Well now she just needs to do this and that, and everything will be fine.” I really appreciated that, because as silly as it sounds, you don’t want to see protagonists get off easy. Artesia Afire really focuses on the decisions that Artesia has to make, and how with every step of her life things just keep getting more and more difficult. Then again, the fact that Artesia Afire is set in the midst of a war should make this sort of thing all the more apparent. Smylie’s making sure to focus on not only the battles but what happens before and after them; the end result is a really strong story that is bound to enthrall anyone who reads it.

Smylie’s paintings in Artesia Afire shift at a moment’s notice from lush to terrifying, much like the world of Artesia Afire itself. A scene of great sensuality�and one that doesn’t shy away from the human body at all�can just as easily be followed with a bloodbath. It’s the orgy scene that in many ways displays this the most, with Smylie bringing a warm sheen to the flesh on display even as one of the dead spirits that Artesia has bound to herself wanders through the scene, dispassionately commenting on Artesia’s latest actions while her own pale skin serves as a contrast to the excitement and vigor of the living. Smylie’s able to handle the smaller scenes just as well as the bigger ones, mind you. His crowd scenes are impressive for the amount of detail and care he lavishes on background heads and bodies, while making sure they don’t distract from the main action. My only real complaint with the art in Artesia Afire is that we haven’t gotten any of the fantastic creatures from Artesia or Artesia Afield yet, but I’m sure given time Smylie will satisfy my need for monsters; there are, after all, three more issues of Artesia Afire to go.

Smylie has done what I think few creators can really manage to do properly�create an entire new world in their head and successfully bring that to the page. The world of Artesia Afire has a rich history and mythology that Smylie doles out to the readers in such a manner that you’re given a lot of information, but never overloaded. I highly recommend picking up the issues of Artesia Afire released to date; with both a Prologue and a “Previously in Artesia” page, it’s new reader friendly. Although I should warn you, once you read Artesia Afire, you’re definitely going to want to pick up the collections of the earlier issues. Not like that’s a bad thing, mind you. Artesia Afire is a six-issue limited-series from Archaia Studios Press; the first three issues are on sale now.

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