Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Many Comics Should Be Good readers are well familiar with Eisner nominated Caanan Grall’s work, as he delivers amazing entries each week in Brian’s Line It Is Drawn series. We are weekly treated to Grall’s massive creativity and superb execution in his handling of those mash-ups, as well as his 100% delightful web series Max Overacts, and so few will be surprised to find that Grall’s first major story, Celadore, is chock full of creativity, laughs, and gorgeous artwork.
Celadore, originally a web comic published by DC via their sort of defunct Zuda label, was collected as a print edition in October 2010. In fairness to DC, “Zuda Comics” is proudly displayed on the cover of Celadore…so it gives one hope that other great Zuda properties like Celadore, and perhaps even potential future properties will still find voice.
Celadore itself is one part Buffy The Vampire Slayer, one part Grall’s own Max Overacts, and one part True Blood, taking aspects from each and blending them into a wonderful new whole. At heart it’s the story of, well, Celadore, a 300-year old Vampire hunter/Monster killer who works for an agency called The Order. On about page three Celadore’s soul is jumped into the body of 11 year-old Evelyn, who has been in a coma for months. Celadore wakes up in the young girl’s body, now imbued with all her powers, and tries to finish the case she was working on when jumped out of her body. Hi-jinks and adventure most definitely ensue. As Celadore hunts down a vampire that has his hands on something cool called the Day Candle, she’s joined by her regular partners in crime-fighting, plus Evelyn’s best friend Max, who has been eating magic berries that help him regenerate, thus making him fairly unkillable. The first arc here (about the Vampire with the Day Candle) ties up with nice resolutions and we’re immediately plunged into a new one. Grall covers everything from Vampires to time travel. He crafts dense stories that move at breakneck speeds, jamming in everything including the kitchen sink, and that is, for the most part, a compliment. Very occasionally it feels like Grall should pull back and slow down for a minute, but mostly there’s so much to love and explore and chuckle at in each page that the pace and density is delightful.
Celadore is a book full of funny easy to love characters brimming with personality, and a crazy world that is heavy on the creativity in all the best ways. For example, Unicorns exist, but “what do you think that horn is for?! They’re meat eaters!” Yeah, that kind of fun. And just when you think Grall is going to pull for the fences, he bunts, and it serves him and his book very well. You feel free when reading his stories, knowing that there’s no limit to what he might possibly imagine. For example here’s a hilarious panel of Sam demonstrating his regeneration powers:
If you look past the funny in Celadore, which is hard, because it’s fairly hilarious, you’ll find lots more to love. Grall’s characters start out feeling somewhat type, but quickly transcend what you’ve seen before. For example, Celadore herself, feels straight out of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but she becomes much different than what you might expect under Grall’s pen, and I particularly liked the choices she makes at the end of this volume, which I won’t spoil, but which are surprising and emotional. Evelyn, initially a ghost, eventually gets her body back, as well as some powers and a “chosen one” status. Sam, who is definitely shades of Max from Grall’s Max Overacts is full of the previously mentioned magic berries that help him heal, and also becomes a wish granting genie at one point. Celadore’s ex is Wax, a head honcho from The Order and a shape shifter of some kind (see the hilarious Pomeranian bit below). Celadore’s friend Ness is a tooth fairy, though the not the kind Sam thinks she is. There’s also a friendly Frankenstein type called Jams, and who knows what else. The characters are all well-developed and layered, and it’s amazing how quickly you come to adore them. They all fit together into this crazy tapestry full of creativity and surprisingly significant emotion. Grall’s stories range from a fairly typical vampire tale with a twist – it’s a corporate vampire mostly trying to “grow his business” to a story about another Fairy masquerading as a big name celebrity, complete with mindless entourage. But in every story, whether it skews more traditional or borderline ingenious, Grall manages to surprise. He’s fun and funny and full of great ideas and I didn’t find anything not to love in the characters or the writing.
Celadore is also chock full of fantastic leading ladies, which as some of you may have guessed by now, is something I have a bit of a jones for. Though overall the story is well-balanced in its characters, with the exception of the delightful Sam, all of the leads from Celadore and Evelyn to Ness and Sam’s mom are all chicks. And awesome ones at that. And as yet another bonus, Celadore is pretty kid friendly. Since I’m personally child free I’m terrible at figuring out what is age appropriate for who, but there’s little that’s outright adult in Celadore. Little to no swearing – a common curse from Evelyn is “sweet biscuits!”; no nudity or hyper sexualization of characters (Wax is frequently naked but it fits the story, is primarily for comedic effect, and you never see anything gratuitous); and the themes, while somewhat adult in that it’s action and comedy based, are played lightly and with just the right tone for younger readers to enjoy.
The art, as anyone familiar with Grall’s work on The Line It Is Drawn and Max Overacts knows, is sublime. With well-considered character design, incredibly fine surprisingly detailed line work, clean design, clear storytelling, intensely perfect character expressions and perhaps best of all it’s wildly consistent throughout. While it’s wonderful to watch artists evolve over their careers, it’s also wonderful (and frankly a relief) when they’re good enough to remain constant within a single volume. Grall does all of this with a seeming ease.
The downsides are few, but they do exist. The scenes that take place at night are a bit on the dark side. I don’t know if that’s the printing or a conscious choice, but it makes some scenes overly dark and a bit of a chore, and sometimes they’re legitimately confusing. Additionally, though Grall handles the size very well overall (you can always read the text and the fine detail work is rarely if ever lost) I confess that I would prefer the book to be printed larger. I don’t mind the landscape size in general, and Grall works well within that framework, but the art is so beautiful that a larger size would benefit it tremendously (I feel similarly about Ross Campbell’s The Abandoned…but maybe I’m just getting old). The storytelling overall and the confusing moments would benefit both from a larger size and from fewer panels per page. Grall is doing so much with story and with character that some breathing room in the pages would be welcome, in fact one of my favorite pages is a partially silent exchange between Celadore and Evelyn, thanks in large part to the fact that it does give you a moment to breathe. There is also some confusion in the artwork – places where the storytelling is just not quite clear. For example, a scene where Sam throws something into a passing car, but you don’t actually see it and have to understand it from the text alone. I had to read the scene a few times to understand what had actually transpired. There’s also a scene where a character is fatally wounded, which I missed, because it had no more importance than the other panels surrounding it, and was too dark and confusing to be easily understood. I suspect a second volume of Celadore (will we ever be able to have that? I curse DC if the answer is no, the same way I curse TokyoPop for no more The Abandoned and East Coast Rising, etc.) would solve some if not all of these problems. Just by nature of this being Grall’s first major printed work, and the problems being the kind that are easily worked out with experience and trial and error. The things that cannot be taught – the relentless creativity with which Grall creates his characters and world, and the raw talent with which he executes those ideas – those will all still be there when he nails the simple technicalities like fewer panels for page, a larger format, and lightening the night scenes. It’s just a matter of time.
Grall’s work has the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that is downright contagious, and has already made him a creator to watch – one that I expect mind blowing things from in comics…hell, anywhere he decides lay down roots. And wherever he does go, I’ll be following along, devoted and anxious for more.
Celadore 1 is available in comic book stores, as well as some bookstores, and online. Max Overacts can be found on Grall’s site Occasional Comics. And all of Grall’s entries into Comics Should Be Good’s The Line It Is Drawn series, can be found here.
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