Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘Persephone’, written and illustrated by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky and translated by Edward Gauvin, available now from Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios.
By Arpad Okay. Despite growing up surrounded by storied war wizards, Persephone doesn’t see herself as someone who changes the world. She wants to avoid her reputation, gather plants, hang with her friends, chill. But fate has no chill in regards to Persephone. She is caught in — and cursed by — a power struggle between two lands. She’s neither witch nor warrior, but her kind heart and green thumb make a hero out of her anyway.
Persephone is everything you love about a fantasy epic presented with a unique, soft-and-loud approach to action and a refreshingly nouveau take on an Attic aesthetic.
So, a young girl who doesn’t fit in finds herself in a new world and, perhaps unsurprisingly, winds up missing her old one. She brings the strengths that made her special in the world above to her exile below and they turn out to be just what Hades was missing. She’s fragile, charitable, goofy, determined, and resilient, flawed and wildly optimistic (as a kid ought to be). Applying her passion to the world’s needs makes her wise beyond her years. Still needing love and support despite her success makes her one of us.
What Persephone reminds me of is the wonder of playing RPG video games when I was young. The ensemble cast (re: adventuring party) is an assemblage of warlocks, majordomos, nerds, cat-people, all of whom hit on a variety of aesthetics from Shining Force II to Tiger Beat magazine. The outfits are imaginative. The personalities range from fun-loving to stick-in-the-mud. The monsters and myrmidons recall Mignola more than Miyamoto. Also vibing RPG is a major theme of the book: the fate of a few, a family, can rock the foundation of a nation and upset history. Two worlds hang in the balance, their future to be determined by the steely will of a single young woman and the allies she finds along the way.
The setting is inspired and understated. The tale is told with visuals more than words. We experience a fleshed out world by living in it with its residents, riding its rails, eating in its diners, visiting its forbidden monuments. When history does get taught, it’s related to the characters you’re attached to. It’s spilling secrets, it’s cute and it works. The world above, Eleusis, is Mediterranean and modern, lively, Kiki’s Delivery Service. Hades below is F.W. Murnau, ornately carved stone temples and gothic castles.
Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky loves to draw ginchy blouses, imbrex and tegula, faces that morph from subtle detail to cartoonish simplicity, and surprisingly satisfying moments of intense combat. Wizards, yes, with blasts and magic shields, but then magic melee weapons. Bow and arrow, sword, and pike. The fight scenes are infrequent but detailed and last for pages. Kurosawa samurai stuff, skillfully conceived and executed.
Persephone isn’t a fighter, she’s a botanist, a girl with a different kind of strength, still fierce.
All of this, world, characters, combat, is rendered in a flexible, sketchy style that suits the range of emotions the story evokes. The rough textures, unconnected contours, cross hatching, and raw gestures serve as a counterweight to balance out the robustly detailed characters, costumes, and settings. The colors are understated and set down as firmly as the line art is airy, the anchor that grounds and completes the art. If the illustration’s power is in how dreamy it comes across, the color is what makes moments and people visceral.
Just as subtly sophisticated as the art is Locatelli-Kournwsky’s storytelling prowess. Long passages of the book are free from dialogue, instead featuring excerpts from the diary of Persephone’s mother. This tells a tale of the past, the present painting its own silent story, and a third thread is formed in the mind of the reader by how these two parts come together. This is comicraft at its best, the combination of words and pictures taken to a level beyond still frames and word bubbles. Persephone frames its hero and her adventure in a variety of different ways, with many voices, many tones, a treasure trove of nonpareil moments, endings that are beginnings, and on and on and on.
Written by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky.
Translation by Edward Gauvin.
Art by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky.
Lettering by Deron Bennett.
US edition edited by Sierra Hahn and Amanda LaFranco.