In a bit of Stan Lee inspired hyperbole, Picturebox, this book’s publisher, refers to it as “the most anticipated graphic novel debut of the year.” Would that that were the case, but I suspect this first of a projected six volumes is probably hovering below the radar of many comics fans.
That’s too bad, because, despite artist C.F.’s pedigree as a member of the arts comics collective Fort Thunder, and his appearances in such aggressively alternative anthologies such as Kramer’s Ergot, Powr Mastrs is a relatively straightforward fantasy adventure comic, which would probably have great appeal to fans of certain genre fiction provided they are open to experiencing particular tropes through C.F.’s unique aesthetic sensibility. It will also help if they’re not turned off by eight page underwater tentacle sex sequences. Look, I said it was relatively straightforward, alright?
All kidding aside, this a terrific, attractively packaged book, certainly one of the most delightful reading experiences I’ve had this year. The “story” concerns a fantasy world called New China, a world of magic and advanced technology, populated by a large cast of eccentric characters, both human and nonhuman, some of whom possess special magical abilities. I put “story” in quotes not because C.F. seems unconcerned with narrative, but because this first volume is more a collection of short vignettes introducing us to the characters and the world. The book opens with Subra Ptareo, an outcast from an area of New China known as White Block who has traveled to the Oxbow Woods to purify himself. He meets a few of the characters who inhabit Oxbow Woods, some of whom are preparing, in various ways, for something called “Transfiguration Night.” There’s a lot else going on with a lot of other characters, some of whose stories overlap with Ptareo’s, and others who do not, at least not yet. One does get the sense that this is all building towards something, and that all of the various threads will connect eventually.
Unlike some of his Fort Thunder peers, C.F.’s cartooning is completely accessible, events unfolding in a clear, straightforward manner. The artwork is simply gorgeous, particularly when depicting scenes of the lush forest setting, but also in the elaborately designed architecture, and of course the extraordinarily imaginative and lovely character designs, which I imagine will be a much admired aspect of the book for many readers. I believe C.F. draws using only pencil, which gives this world and these characters a delicate, dreamlike quality that enhances the otherworldliness to great effect. The book is frequently very funny, as well.
There is going to be another five volumes in the series, which is great as the book certainly left me wanting more. C.F. is one of the most talented cartoonists working today, this is his first graphic novel, and it’s a winner. Please seek this out, and enjoy.
Bonus: Scroll down for some terrific drawings of the Powr Mastrs characters by Kevin Huizenga! http://kevinh.blogspot.com/