Artesia Besieged #1-2

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

There are some comics that are inexplicably popular, that burn up the sales chart without any sort of logical reason why anyone and everyone is buying it. Conversely, there are also comics like Artesia where the big mystery is why it isn’t the kind of comic that everyone is reading. Looking at the first two issues of the new Artesia Besieged mini-series, I’ve finally come to a conclusion and I think it’s an important one: people are stupid. That’s just about the only reason why I can see that this isn’t a sales juggernaut.

The self-proclaimed Queen of Dara Dess, Artesia has led her armies against an entire empire. Now she and her Highlander warriors are suffering through the horror that is a city siege. But between Artesia’s strong will and her advisors (both living and dead), she is proving to be more formidable an opponent than her enemies would believe. But will a request to parlay the traitorous King Euwen prove to be Artesia’s undoing, or her salvation?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in a world where George R.R. Martin’s novels such as A Game of Thrones and A Feast for Crows are international best-sellers, you’d think that Mark Smylie’s Artesia would get the same sort of attention. Like Martin’s novels, they’re intelligently written, one of the few modern works of fantasy that seems to really understands that one of the most dangerous weapons in war is politics. Artesia is in many ways a series of stories about people whose lives are shaped directly by the decisions of others as well as themselves, and those who succeed are the ones who make the right calls. Of course, there’s more to Smylie’s writing in Artesia than just the intelligent plotting. Smylie knows how to use the elements of fantasy to his advantage. In the latest storyline, Artesia Besieged, most of the fantasy elements (aside from the medieval milieu) have to do with the spirits that Artesia has bound to herself for advice and protection. It’s a smart call on Smylie’s part, keeping magic and the like a distant, mysterious, almost frightening element in the story. With actual appearances infrequent and unnerving, it reminds you that one of the meanings of the word magic is, “A mysterious quality of enchantment.” That, to me, is Artesia.

Special note also must be given to the fact that Smylie has clearly thought out the world of Artesia Besieged in great detail. This is a world with multiple countries, peoples, and elaborate histories that all exist, but Smylie doles out the information as it’s needed. Even when you’re given just a small fragment of knowledge (like, for example, why King Euwen is known as the Traitor King), you’re not only given the impression that Smylie had created all of these ideas well in advance, but that there’s a much more elaborate back story that only Smylie knows and is just waiting to be told. Artesia Besieged is one of the only comics where a supplemental text feature at the back of the comic is not only acceptable, but something to look forward to. His additional (and purely optional) information given to the reader about the Known World is almost as exciting as the main story itself.

Smylie’s painted art is like his writing; lush, detailed, and gorgeous to study for hours. Smylie handles all sorts of scenes with equal aplomb; the battle scenes as the city siege continue are busy yet simultaneously easy to follow. You can really understand what’s going on as the different forces move against and maneuver around each other, turning what could be a complex series of feints and strikes into something easily digestible by the reader. What’s refreshing is that he’s just as good with painting scenes of Artesia and her trusted advisors sitting around the camp and talking. There’s a good sense of body language here, able to let the reader see the mood merely by how people are positioned on the page. As Artesia Besieged is a book intended for mature readers, that also holds true for the sex that exists in the series. Smylie doesn’t shy away from including the sex-and-war connections here; Artesia is a woman who lives life to its fullest, and Smylie’s not afraid to show all aspects of her character on the page. It never feels gratuitous, though; perhaps it’s because while Smylie doesn’t hold back in showing the details, it doesn’t come across as something that’s supposed to titillate the reader. Instead Smylie shows her approaching her partners with the same sort of vigor that she does the battlefield, and that’s something that really only is properly conveyed to us thanks to Smylie’s art as it shows rather than tells.

I just don’t get why everyone isn’t buying Artesia Besieged. The three previous mini-series (Artesia, Artesia Afield, and Artesia Afire) are all available in collected editions. The new mini-series, like Smylie’s earlier works, is only published once Smylie’s finished the book so we’re getting issues every two months like clockwork. It’s an exciting, lushly rendered series that has a little something to offer everyone. Honestly, it seems to be a no-brainer that Artesia Besieged should be tearing up the sales charts, one of the huge breakout hits of the year. If you haven’t given it a chance, this is your big opportunity to look for yourself. If it was up to me, I’d cheerfully read new Artesia comics every month for the rest of the decade. Instead I’ll savor the new mini-series I can, because this is one seriously good book.

7 comments to Artesia Besieged #1-2

  • John Dominguez

    I really loved this comic, but dropped it. It was so hard to tell the difference between characters after awhile. I wish the creator would learn to draw just a couple of more faces, would pick it up again in a second.

  • Cal

    April 20, 2007

    Hi,
    Just found this Site, while looking for any scrap of information on Besieged.
    The ASP, ArtesiaOnline and The Known World Sites have at best reviews only on first or second Issues in the Series and they are almost a year old. The Forums page is down apparently, so no joy there.
    So, I would like to say that even here, the information is very much outdated. The Issues have not been coming out every 2 months like clock-work, very much to the contrary in fact.
    As far as being a no-brainer for the series to be tearing-up the Sales chart, well, yeah – if you can find someone who actually has Issues to sell you! Even Cosmic Therapy doesn’t have anything other than Issue #1, and they’re the place to go for Artesia, with they’re ASP connections. No one’s buying it because it’s NOT THERE…
    After skimming all three Sites, all I found were out-dated references to Beseiged. And apparently, Artesia has definitely been back-burnered, everything else at ASP gets precedence and prominance/show-casing.
    I’ve been a long-time supporter of Mark’s work, having participated in Beta-Testing the RPG and being involved in the Forums for years. But the last 2 years, yes – that’s 2 years, it’s been really kinda dismal. :( Every sign so far points to lack of focus for Artesia-Beseiged or future installments of the Series.
    From what I understand, Mark has planned the Series to be 22 six-issue installments. One a year perhaps. Ok..well, if you do the math, 3 completed installments in 8.5 years. Since Beseiged seems to be MIA right now, I’m not counting it. And the last Issue of Afield was printed Feb 2004. It’s been well over 3 years since a completed Series hit the market.

    And while all the other works going on at ASP are making for a successful publisher, the loss of being able to count on Artesia coming out reliably and timely is a lot to bear. I love Artesia…damn it! I want it back.

    So, that’s my two-cents. No one will probably read anyway. Whose even looking for Tidbits on Artesia?

    Saddened,
    Cal

  • Paul

    Found this while desperately trying to find new info on the Besieged series. I have to agree that I don’t understand why this isn’t a huge blockbuster. I really hope ASP will find the time and effort to at least finish this series (I guess hoping for a completed 22 series epic is futile).

  • Mike

    I’ve been looking for any info at all on when Artesia: Besieged #3 might be out, but still no luck. I would have to agree with the previous comments, love the Artesia series but I am very disappointed in the lack of attention it seems to be recieving right now at ASP. I understand that all companies go through growing pains but didn’t we see this exact same thing with Image 10-12 years ago? Please ASP hire someone to be an editor-in-cheif and let the creators get back to creating the comics we enjoy!

    puzzled,
    Mike

  • Erica

    I love Artesia too, and I am still hoping for a completed Besieged series, and maybe more.

  • Ysgarran

    News:
    01.24.08 Artesia Besieged #3 returns April 2008!
    http://www.artesiaonline.com/

  • Due to the amount of spam this entry seems to attract, I’m turning off any future comments.