'Calla Cthulhu' eldritch YA that trusts its readers with big concepts

‘Calla Cthulhu’ eldritch YA that trusts its readers with big concepts

Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. This week, Arpad dives into ‘Calla Cthulhu’, available now from Dark Horse Comics.

Cover to 'Calla Cthulhu'. Art by Erin Humiston and Bill Muldron/Dark Horse Comics

Cover to ‘Calla Cthulhu’. Art by Erin Humiston and Bill Mudron/Dark Horse Comics

By Arpad Okay. The first thing that will strike you about Calla Cthulhu is how springy and full of youth its visuals are. Erin Humiston’s style is reminiscent of Disney’s Aladdin, or the Saturday morning cartoons of the early 90s. I need some action figures made from this series but quick. It’s fresh, it’s fun, it screams Young Adult book, and, given its Lovecraftian nature, it also screams.

It’s written for all ages, but not at the cost of some serious atmosphere. Calla Tafali is a blood relative to Cthulhu. Her family includes monsters from beyond, and you actually get to peep that beyond. The space gods have a dark majesty. The zombies are made with spit and filled with dirt. The henchmen are slick, mysterious, faceless.

Then there’s Calla. Tentacle hair to combat boots, she’s badass. The character design through and through is solid, but the leading lady is tops. Her fashion: urban. He accessories: eldritch. Total cosplay material. I want to see little kids dressed up as Calla Cthulhu for Halloween.

It’s not a far-fetched dream, either; this book is near perfect YA reading material. Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer originally wrote Calla for the digital comics publisher Stēla. The conversion from a one-panel-at-a-time phone scroll to a bound volume has cost Calla Cthulhu none of its speed or simplicity. Single panels will frequently take up entire pages. The layout is completely free of clutter, and the pacing of the story matches the swiftness of its telling.

Interior panels from 'Calla Cthulhu'. Art by Erin Humiston, Mario A. Gonzalez, and Bill Muldron/Dark Horse Comics

Interior panels from ‘Calla Cthulhu’. Art by Erin Humiston, Mario A. Gonzalez, and Bill Mudron/Dark Horse Comics

Calla Cthulhu is heavy on action, and the fight sequences can last for pages at a time. They’re smooth and swift, vibing like kung fu, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. It’s a little weird — paranormal urban fantasy with martial arts combat, melee weapons and deadly hands — but it works. It’s that Young Adult style again. Before the walls of genre go up, before logic holds the story back, it’s fun to discover everything and assemble it however you see fit.

You couldn’t ask for better masters of craft than Dorkin and Dyer. They take the standards that work best in YA fiction and integrate them effortlessly into the story. Calla is allowed grown-up stakes, situations where she can lose — exactly what young readers need to encounter. She has a natural talent for fighting evil, but she doesn’t know everything. She’s got the cute pet, but she’s also got the epitome of family problems.

This is, for me, one of the most important things a YA read can have. A story that trusts its reader with big concepts. It’s okay to get angry with your elders. Your feelings are legitimate even if they’re taboo. And parents, distant relations, neighbors, strangers, whoever a person is, you should judge them based on what they do, not who they are. This is all over Calla Cthulhu. The reader (and Calla herself) has to decide whether Calla’s actions make her a hero or if her dark heritage makes her a villain.

That it’s “her” at all is another feather in Calla’s cap. The focus of this book is on girls. There are several leading people of color. Folks who, as well rounded characters, are woefully absent from Lovecraft’s body of work. The saying goes “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Calla Cthulhu is an in to the world of classic cosmic horror for those least represented in it.

Dark Horse Comics/$12.99

Written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer.

Pencils by Erin Humiston.

Inks by Erin Humiston and Mario A. Gonzalez.

Colors by Bill Mudron.

Letters by Nate Piekos.

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