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A review a day: Warlord of Io

It’s the comic that Diamond didn’t want you to see … revealed!!!!!

Okay, so Warlord of Io wasn’t exactly the comic Diamond didn’t want you to see. It was more the cause célèbre back when Diamond introduced their new benchmarks, because the individual issues didn’t get listed, as Diamond claimed the pre-orders were just too pathetic to warrant a place in their oh-so-precious catalogue. So James Turner, in the grand tradition of nonconforming Canadians everywhere (who can forget the Canadians' valiant war of independence from their English overlords … oh, wait a minute), decided to offer the single issues as downloadable files and keep making his comic. As a proud, iPad-less Luddite, I decided to wait until a collection was offered in olde-tyme printed format. And lo, SLG has printed up a collection, placed a $14.95 price tag on it, and offered it to the world. Take that, Diamond!

I’ve been a fan of James Turner since Nil: A Land Beyond Belief, so I was certainly vexed that his single issues wouldn’t get printed. But Turner’s sprawling opera always work better in collected format, anyway (Rex Libris, which came out in single issue format, certainly does), so I didn’t mind waiting. The question is, of course, was this worth the wait? Well, I can certainly recommend it, even though plot-wise, it’s fairly standard. I know there aren’t that many plots and writers have to make what they can with the plots they have, which is why this is better than some of the other books I’ve read recently with standard plots, because the fun of Turner’s comics is in the details, both the art and the random dialogue. The plot of this book is simple: Zing, the dissolute heir to the throne of the Ion empire (yes, the moon of Jupiter), is pressed into service when his long-reigning father, Zoz, retires to the Pleasure Domes of Zur (where he’s surrounded by “enormous breasted space Amazons in zero gravity”). Zing simply wants to play video games and rock ‘n’ roll all day, so he’s a bit put out by this promotion. Almost immediately, his friend/love interest Moxy convinces him to make Io a better place to live, but to do that he needs money, so he slashes the military budget. The head of the military, General Grymak, leads a coup against Zing, and the rest of the book deals with Zing and Moxy trying to get away from the might of Io’s military while Zing is forced to grow up a bit. In case you can’t tell from the cover, Tiki Space Pirates are involved. I didn’t plan for a comic with Tiki Space Pirates to be featured on Talk Like a Pirate Day, but that’s just how powerful pirates really are!

While the plot hews very closely to epics the world over, Turner tells the story with a lot of verve and humor. The best thing about Turner’s writing is that he’s wryly humorous, throwing some jokes at us but more just revealing humor through the characters and their strange worlds. In this book, it’s Jupiter’s satellite system, as Grymak allies himself and betrays the armies of other Jovian moons. Grymak and his advisors are imbeciles, but Turner is more interested in satirizing the bureaucracy of government, so their behavior is deliberately heightened to buffoon levels. There are running jokes about Grymak’s anger at being contradicted (to the point where no one tells him bad news because they fear for their lives), the mindlessness of the crews chasing Zing and Moxy, the faux-courage of the commanders who order their underlings to sacrifice themselves but don’t make the same sacrifices – epitomized by this sequence …

… and the cutthroat business of politics, as Grymak actually promotes a female of a species that eats their mates and sucks out their brains (those who protest this are “just jealous,” according to Grymak). The bad guys in the book are supposed to be ridiculous, because Turner wants to show the insanity of following some traditions, even into an abyss. Meanwhile, Zing is a kooky stereotype, but that’s also deliberate on Turner’s part – Zing doesn’t want the job, obviously, but when he and Moxy go on the run, Turner surprises us by making Moxy a bit more bloodthirsty than we might expect and Zing more thoughtful – if thoughtful is the word for a 26-year-old slacker – than he at first seems. Zing comes to understand the decisions inherent in ruling, with Moxy helping him understand that ruling means making the tough decisions, whether they’re right or not. Warlord of Io isn’t terribly deep, but it is deeper than you might expect when you begin reading. Turner has a lot of fun with it (off the top of my head, the American Idol-type audition that Zing goes to is a highlight, because the Simon Cowell stand-in is even crueller than Cowell himself), but he also makes sure that, even if the plot is conventional, the details matter. And Turner is good at details.

This is most evident in the art, which is typically magnificent. I have no idea how Turner creates his art – the space battles in this book are obviously 3-D computer images, and I’m sure he does everything on a computer, but I don’t know precisely how he does it. Turner’s art is always where his imagination goes nuts, and while his writing is often witty, funny, and precise, his art is packed with wild details that make his worlds come alive. This might be his best job yet, as he fills the spaces with all sorts of odd creatures from the Jovian system, things with fronds and suckers and bulbous heads and reptilians heads and insectoid arms and all sorts of wild appendages. Turner makes sure the art is fluid, too – working on a computer often means artists take shortcuts, but Turner isn’t as lazy as that. He fills the panels with things and makes sure each panel shows either different weird things or the previous weird things in different positions, indicating movement as the principals move throughout the scene. Here’s an amazing sequence as Zing tries to get his bodyguard unstuck from the hull of his space ship:

The background is always changing as the debris spins lazily through the void. The Tiki markers drift in almost by accident, belying the danger their presence signifies. It’s a wonderful little scene, and Turner does a wonderful job with the backgrounds. He also gives us this nice scene when the ambassadors of the Jovian system assemble in Grymak’s throne room:

Finally, we get a few full page spreads of the rebellion across Io when Grymak goes too far. Look at the wondrous creatures and details Turner packs into these scenes:

This comic is truly a visual feast. Turner’s attention to detail, both in the art and the language, makes this a much longer read than if he stuck to the basic plot (that’s not a criticism). Because of this, the book is far more interesting than just a tale about an heir trying to regain a throne he never wanted in the first place. This is what I mean when I say that while the plots may stay the same, it’s what a creator does with it that’s important.

I suppose I’m a bit pre-disposed to like Turner’s work because he’s never disappointed me yet. Warlord of Io isn’t quite a deep as Nil was and it’s not as out-and-out crazy fun as Rex Libris, but it’s as funny as those other works and it shows Turner’s artistic improvements very nicely. Plus, Tiki Space Pirates!!!!!!

Tomorrow: I start to review my convention comics. That should be fun!

11 Comments

I’ve been curious about this ever since the hullaballoo with Diamond. Judging from the pages above, it looks great. I’ll have to check it out.

This certainly looks interesting. Thanks for bringing it up. I’ll have to keep an eye out for this one.

How many pages is it, and how big is it? The contact info doesn’t say.

DeBT: It’s 206 pages long. I assume you mean dimensions, and it’s smaller than a regular comic (or trade) but larger than a typical volume of manga. I didn’t break out the ruler, though, so that’s going to have to be good enough!

I gave this a try because I heard so many good things about it, but it just didn’t click for me. I think the computer-generated art would look better in color, as I found the geometric images really hard to look at in black and white. And like Greg said, the plot is pretty typical, and I found myself rolling my eyes a few times at the main character, thinking, “We get it. You’re a slacker. We get it.” I jsut didn’t think the humor was that funny.

Dan: I disagree with you about the story, because although they brought up Zing’s slacker-ness more than once, I didn’t feel it was excessive. I do think you have a point about the art, although I’m obviously not bothered by it. I wonder if Turner has ever tried to do it in color and it just doesn’t look right. This book features more 3-D effects than his previous work, so I wonder if that’s where your discomfort comes from. I really enjoy it, though.

Those space pirates look like Easter Island heads, not Tiki idols. Not the same thing!

Rob: Those are just the territorial markers. The actual space pirates look much more like Tiki idols!

Thanks for the great review Greg. I’m really glad the book saw the light of day too!

Anyone who has worked for large corporations knows that the real world is disturbingly close to the absurdity you see in Dilbert. Warlord of Io just adds rayguns and spaceships to the mix of ‘bureaucrazy’ antics. There’s a reason why the saying ‘there’s the right way, and then there’s the army way’ came about.

I also wanted to pull back the veneer of efficiency that dictatorships seem to enjoy. They’re far more dysfunctional, disorganized, and conflicted than most people think. Deranged leaders like Grymak are quite common. Somehow, such narcissistic egomaniacs have a penchance for seizing power, whether it be in the corporate or the political world, and they are as sure of themselves as they are harmful.

I’m glad you liked the development of Zing and Moxy. They’re both, in a sense, posers at the start, framed by their circumstances. Zing poses as a warlord, and Moxy poses as a pacifist, but that isn’t the truth of either character.

The vast majority of the artwork was created in Adobe Illustrator CS3. The 3-D elements were made in another program called Swift 3D. It can output vector graphics, but I found the bitmap output better. It seemed a risky move at first, but I think they integrate very well with the illustrator generated material. Finishing touches were added in Photoshop.

Didn’t put as many background details and callouts in as I did in Nil, as I didn’t want to distract or slow the reader too much. Trying to find the right balance with that sort of thing.

Oh yes: there are a couple of reasons why I chose black and white. First, I wanted the book to have a retro-future feel, and evoke the old serials. Black and white obviously suited that. Second, it costs less to print than full colour and doesn’t take as long to do. Time is at a premium for me these days, and in a soft market with a fringe book, well, I’d be lying if I said that cost wasn’t a factor.

The internet doesn’t have that restriction, and I have a number of colour pieces for Warlord of Io up at my website:
http://www.jtillustration.com/woi

best,
James Turner

James: Thanks for the information about the art. I always like to hear about the process and tech. I just happened to be at your web site this morning, and I saw the full-color Warlord pictures. Very cool indeed!

Thanks and you’re most welcome! One of these days I’ll put up some images on my site of the process, if anyone’s interested. And it’s always fun to play in full colour…

[...] month SGL Publishing is releasing Rebel Angels from writer/ illustrator James Turner (Rex Libris, Warlord of Io)  It is a collected edition of his web comic Hell [...]

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