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Zack Giallongo was nice enough to send me some of his mini-comics a few years ago (reviews here and here), and you could tell he had talent. So now First Second has published his first full-length graphic novel, Broxo, which will cost you a mere $16.99. It’s colored by Braden Lamb and Carly Monardo, and they do a fine job.
Giallongo digs the sword-and-sorcery fantasy stuff, and Broxo is firmly in that tradition. A young girl named Zora climbs onto a plateau, where she’s looking for the clan that lives there. Instead she finds a wasteland populated by, it appears, only two people – a young lad named Broxo and a witch-like woman named Ulith. She also finds out that things that Broxo calls “creepers” wander around – they’re basically zombies. Zora is on a mission to help her father reunite the five clans of the land, but she discovers that something awful has happened to the clan she’s looking for on the plateau. Eventually, Broxo remembers what happened to the clan and what Ulith’s involvement in it was, and he also finds out that he’s the only one who can stop the “creepers,” so everything leads to an exciting conclusion where lots of horrible stuff happens, but which is necessary for the main characters to move on … in more ways than one.
The key to the comic is that Giallongo does a very good job with the characters, so that we’re invested in them as they move through the comic. Both Zora and Broxo are young people – it seems like they’d be young teens, but their ages remain vague – and Giallongo writes them as such quite well. They’re both trying hard to act older than they really are, and while their immaturity isn’t a big issue in the comic, it does show up in some places and makes us realize that they’re scared kids in a situation they don’t understand. Zora is smarter and calmer than Broxo, but Broxo knows the land and doesn’t make the mistakes she does early on in the book. They need each other, because neither is able to succeed without the other, and Giallongo does a nice job bringing them closer together. When Zora first meets Broxo, she’s scornful of him, but she comes to realize that he knows a lot that she doesn’t, and while early on he thinks she blunders around, he also begins to understand her. They have a rocky relationship, but eventually they become friends. Giallongo doesn’t force it, which is nice – he lets them both change gradually, so that the relationship feels more organic. They’re in a tense situation, so of course there are going to be issues, but it’s nice to see the two of them change over the course of the comic. Giallongo also does a good job with Ulith – she’s not in the book as much as the other two, but Giallongo still gives her a good character arc. She’s older than the kids and always has an angle, so when she decides to help them at the end, we think she wants something in return. Giallongo slowly reveals her secrets, making her character far less of a villain – she’s never exactly a bad guy, but she seems a bit evil at the beginning – and more of a tortured soul. As we learn the connections between Ulith and Broxo, Giallongo is able to ratchet up the tension in the book. He paces the book very well – early on, Zora gets into trouble often, but then the book settles down into a nice rhythm that allows us to learn more about the characters before the ending, where everything speeds up and the battles begin. Because Giallongo has done such a nice job with the characters early on, when the bad things start happening, we’re much more invested in their fates. There’s tragedy in the book, but Giallongo does a good job balancing things, as we’re pretty certain things will work out okay. It doesn’t really matter that they do, because it’s how the characters have changed through their ordeal that makes the story work.
Giallongo continues to get better in his artwork, and it’s as clean and precise colored as it is in black and white, which isn’t always the case. He creates a really interesting world, full of nice details and strange creatures, but his cartoony style helps make everything fit well into the world. His characters are well designed, as it’s clear Zora and Broxo are younger than Ulith – that’s harder to do than you might think. He does a wonderful job with the facial expressions – they’re a bit exaggerated, but that goes back to his style, which demands bigger emotions, and Giallongo doesn’t overdo it. Paired with his nice dialogue, the characters emote quite well. His dynamic and fluid style means that the action scenes are marvelous, which is a good thing as the book builds to a big battle, and nothing seems out of place in the book. Lamb and/or Monardo color the flashback scenes in sepia tones, and their colors for the present scenes aren’t too bright, as they use a lot of earth tones and cool blues and greens. The plateau isn’t a nice place to live, so the colors reflect that, but they also do it so that the few bright spots – such as the rust-colored leaves in one scene – stand out more. Giallongo and the colorists also do a fine job with some of the shading, as when Broxo and Zora fight a creature at night while holding torches – the coloring adds a good sense of furtiveness to the scene. Giallongo lays out his pages very well, and the book is fun to read because it’s clear he has a good command of both the artwork and the writing. That’s always nice.
As I read Broxo, it became fairly easy to figure out where it was going – it’s not the most complex plot. That’s okay, though, and I still Recommend this book. The nice thing about doing such a good job with the characters is that even if the plot isn’t too original, the way the characters react to the plot is, and Giallongo has done fine work creating these characters and making sure they act like real people. It’s a coming-of-age story in many ways, and it’s crucial for us to believe that these characters are growing and changing, and this reader, at least, does. Giallongo keeps getting better at both the writing and the art, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next. He’s a talent to watch out for!
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