By Crom (Christian Ortiz), co-written by Daniel Martin, calligraphy by Alice Mazzilli
Right then…. Martin Eden put Crom in his best of year post in December as someone to keep an eye on:
“I picked Cristian Ortiz‘s Golden Campaign book up at Thought Bubble and I was really impressed. His art reminds me of a cross between Taiyō Matsumoto (Tekkonkinkreet etc) and James Jean – it’s really imaginative and impressive.”
Yep, I reckon he’s onto something there. In fact, Martin’s got a rather good track record with spotting new talent. So if he talks someone up, it’s always worth looking at.
And Golden Campaign is definitely worth looking at. Visually it’s really quite impressive indeed in a raw, fresh sort of way. Add a lot of Gipi, maybe some Mignola and the rest into the artistic mix and you have an idea.
Or I could simply show you a couple of these really good looking pages….
That’s a flashback sequence from late on in the volume, showing elite K-Korps leader Azul and his King – Sun IV valiant in battle.
Yep, that should do the trick. Good isn’t it?
Golden Campaign starts with a young boy in a strange city, with a look part Game Of Thrones, part classic RPG, part big and nasty battle mecha steampunk. It’s all semi-modern tech of rifles and machine-pistols mixed with ancient swords, and medieval cities of dirt and shit mixed with the threat of giant Mecha Robot armies. A mashup culture, a mashup style. But a damn effective one.
The boy is ridiculously naive, expecting to be able to see his way through with just a bit of artwork paying his way, but there’s no work except soldiering, so off he goes, a lamb to the veritable slaughter…
Key City is part of the Key Lords Empire, embroiled in a long-running war with those Mechs, churning through young men at the front, and joining up is practically a guarantee of death or heroism, as the war-weary training instructors are always keen to point out to a fresh batch of fresh-faced boys.
Roving bands of tattooed mercenaries fight alongside the forces of Empire. The mercenaries are unwashed, fearless, violent types, the Empire is one ruled by old men, larger than life aristos with a bottle of something red on the go, full beards and booming Brian Blessed voices. Add all that onto the world-building stuff I’ve talked about already and you have something really rather dense here, with lots to process, a huge visual payload across the volume. beards; tattoos, keys, campaign rings – everything has meaning here, everything has history, Ortiz makes that ever so clear, and hopefully some of this rich history will come out in time.There’s an epic scale going on here, and it all adds to the enjoyment.
It’s also a rite of passage thing, Ortiz deliberately echoing his own path, his own journey, albeit with less medieval weaponry and no carrot gin (and yes, we all want that recipe).
So a visual treat, packed full of epic adventure. It’s well worth seeking out. But there are problems. Nothing insurmountable, but still worth talking about….
Ortiz’s visual storytelling is good enough to pull me through the work, but there were still moments I felt myself questioning what I’d just read, confused by the plot problems. There are characters introduced and then ignored – the girl with the white dog who’s around for one panel? that hammer-wielding gent with the white-streak in his hair and the quiet, distracted looking girl with him who appear for three pages, culminating in a mild cliffhanger never referred to again? I imagine they’ll be popping up again in a second volume, but should have been better used in this volume. There’s a subtle distinction between cleverly tantalising glimpse and simply dropping things in – and Golden Campaign definitely sits on the frustrating dropping things in side at times.
And then there’s the dialogue that feels just the wrong side of clunky, and there’s a little too much of it, especially for someone who has the ability to tell a fine story visually. Hopefully it’s a learning experience, and we’ll see the rewards of experience next time.
So, despite going on about the problems, I found myself coming back time and again to the art and Ortiz’s storytelling, and that continually won me over. Definitely worth a look.
Golden Campaign is available online, and Crom talks of four, maybe more volumes are planned in the series. The limited edition print version of volume 1 was/is available from Crom’s online store and selected comic shops.