by David O’Connell
The Tozo of the title, that serious looking young man in the red uniform and flowing lilac cape on the cover of issue 1, is a police inspector on the island city of Nova Venezia. Set to investigate the murder of Luco Lello, an employee of the Financial Exchange, it isn’t long before Tozo discovers that this may be far more than a simple murder case.
There’s blackmail, conspiracies, secret assassins guilds, mysterious hooded women looking out for Tozo, mecha-golems powered by strange bio-neural gels and much more within. As the story develops Tozo discovers that he’s in far deeper than he could ever believe and there are elements that hint that in the future he’s going to find himself at odds with the religious, financial and political powers of both Novo Venezia, The Papacy and The Spider Empire. Tozo may be just a simple Public Servant, but he’s about to find himself in a world of trouble.
(Tozo, chapter 1, page 1, a beautiful start to O’Connell’s adventure.)
And it’s this world of trouble that provides the most interest and intrigue here; this is a city state in near open conflict both with the Papacy within and the neighbouring Spider-Empire without. O’Connell does a fine job of delivering a story full of large-scale intriguing political machinations and the smaller scale minutiae of the world we’re observing. There are wonderful little details all over the book, including carefully composed back-matter endpapers. It’s all building, ever so slowly, to a huge story, with poor Inspector Tozo caught right in the middle of it all.
(Poor Tozo, he’s destined to discover that he’s being used by those in power, just a simple cog in the wheels, and a disposable one at that. From David O’Connell’s Tozo)
O’Connell’s most obvious influence, with his deliberate Ligne Claire style, has to be Herge and Tintin, but there’s also, in his delightfully fine lines and bright, brillaint colours, a touch of Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. And in a British comic market, so unfamiliar with Ligne Claire, there’s also bound to be a comparison between Tozo and Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing. But although both tales share a common artistic style, there’s a world of difference in their stories.
Where Rainbow Orchid is an out and out action adventure romp, Tozo is far more restrained; set in a fantasy Venice-like setting, with art-deco elements sitting alongside high science fiction concepts. It’s almost Shakespearean at times, both in look and in theme; with warring factions of religion and state, politics and diplomacy masking elements of betrayal and murder. The historical stylings of everything from the retro-futurist costumes to the smallest desk photo set Tozo apart as something visually different from everything else in the UK comics scene right now.
(Tozo makes wonderful use of a sumptuous colour palette throughout – something made possible by publishing online and thankfully continued with these print copies)
O’Connell’s fantasy setting does allow him to make full use of an extensive colour pallette – indeed, this is one of the benefits of web-first publishing – online colour is cheap. But it’s to O’Connell’s credit that he’s taken the difficult financial decision to print in colour as well, keeping all of his online lush colour schemes intact. It’s a good descision, as Tozo just wouldn’t have the visual impact in simple black and white.
Tozo’s formal, stylised artwork carries on into the formal style of the story and dialogue, which, at times tends just slightly into something a little too rigid, restrained and straight-laced. But it’s rare and generally Tozo is extremely enjoyable in it’s own, slow burning way and more than anything, especially this early on in the extended story, it’s a beautiful visual delight.
O’Connell initially stated that he could see it taking ten years to complete – right now he’s forecasting a few years less, but we’re still talking marathon rather than sprint here. But it’s a marathon well worth getting involved with.
You can read Tozo online but, as usual, I would recommend the sheer pleasure of sitting down with the comics for your enjoyment and you can get print copies of Tozo from comic shops and direct from o’Connell through his webstore.