Long time readers of my columns are aware that I have a problem with wordiness in comics. Comic books are a visual medium, and as such, whenever possible, I feel the page and art should show the action, instead of relying upon the narration or the characters to tell the reader what is going on. When authors don’t do this, and just give a huge info dump, it shows not only a lack of faith in their readers, it also shows a lack of faith in the medium itself. Less is more in comics, and the best authors understand this.
Additionally, with an overreliance on narration, the reader can become distracted from what’s actually happening on the page, and ignore important details because they are so busy trying to follow what the narration is saying instead of looking for the visual cues that this kind of work is supposed to be known for.
Thankfully, this week’s review is about a comic that doesn’t suffer from this issue at all, because there not only is no narration, the handful of speech bubbles in the book are written in a language no one speaks. That’s right, this week we are diving into the new OGN MAWRTH VALLIIS by author/ artist Electric Pick aka EPHK, a brilliant work that shows what properly done visual storytelling can do.
Here’s the blurb:
Writer/artist EPHK will take readers on a pulse-pounding, sci-fi journey through Mars’ mysteries in the forthcoming MAWRTH VALLIIS. This original graphic novel will land in stores this July from Image Comics.
This unique story is a fast-paced, 128-page, full-color, pocket-format experience all told in its original Martian language.
During a skirmish with an opposing Martian faction, a fighter pilot disobeys orders to pursue a fleeing foe. Guided by her determination and curiosity, she is led into a dangerous chase through Mars’s forbidden valley where she will be confronted with the red planet’s darkest of secrets.
In many ways it feels like any description of MAWRTH VALLIIS is doomed to fall short. With a story that relies so heavily on visuals, a simple plot summary does not do it justice. In all honesty I kind of wish I hadn’t read the plot summary before I read the book, because any help you get with understanding this book feels like a bit of a cheat. That being said, I completely understand why a book with no narration and no understandable dialogue might need some help gaining readers, but still, this work feels like it deserves to be work for the reader, and the reader is rewarded for the work.
Keeping this in mind, I hope I can be forgiven for not diving too deep into plot details here, since I want you as a reader to have as much of the same experience that I did as possible. And that is the beauty of MAWRTH VALLIIS. The reader who is willing to invest the time that they need to to fully understand the story will be rewarded with a feeling of connection that a lesser works fail to evoke. Without a running narration, the reader has to figure things out along with our main character, and that means that we are just as surprised, shocked, and hurt by the discoveries in this work as she is. You cannot be a passive reader with a work like this, and engaging readers in the act of creation is what good comics should do. The art tells us a story, and our own experiences and creativity allow us to fill in the blanks along the way as we go.
And let’s talk about that art. My god, MAWRTH VALLIIS is a beautiful book! It has a wonderful retro sci-fi feel to it, reminiscent of pulp covers from works like Planet Comics and Strange Tales that just sets my geeky heart to fluttering. EPHK has been refining his style for a while now, and from what I’ve seen, this may be his best work to date.
Every inch of the page is filled with detail, but in a way that makes the world feel immersive instead of overwhelming. Everything has a reason and a purpose, and the art does the heavy lifting of telling the story in a way that feels effortless.
Plus, best of all, this is a completely contained OGN, meaning that while it has a $14.99 cover price, you’re getting a complete story. Structurally and artistically this format reminds me of books like Hedra, which also came out from Image Comics, and if you enjoyed that OGN, you’re definitely going to want to check out this one.
Copies of MAWRTH VALLIIS are available from a number of online retailers, which is good since finding it in the wild might be tricky. My LCS only ordered a couple (including mine since I preordered this beauty the minute I saw it in Previews) and depending on the readership your LCS has, your luck finding it may vary.
That being said, even if your LCS doesn’t have it, see if they can still order you a copy. MAWRTH VALLIIS is the kind of exciting new indie book we should be supporting, and let Image, and EPHK, know we want to see more like this!
So that’s it from me this week. Until next time, stay safe.