The Webcomic Overlook #60: Fey Winds
Westerners can sure be po-faced sticklers when it comes to injecting humor in the fantasy genre. Oh, sure, National Lampoon has given us the parody Bored of the Rings, and Mary Gentle thrilled us with an orc-run fantasy world in Grunts. Fine anomalies, both … but they aren’t necessarily household names. For the most part, we like our fantasy heroes to be stoic warriors, our heroines to be cold humorless ice princesses, our fantasy villains to be ominous evil spirits from the very depths of hell, and our Kender folk kept at the bare minimum. Fun gets in the way of epic business. You know how many Lord of the Rings fans out there think that hobbits were completely unnecessary comedy foils? A whole damn lot, that’s what.
There seems to be less of a problem in Japan. My guess is because Japan’s version of fantasy is more or less based on the Final Fantasy series, which, at its core, is pretty goofy. I mean, moogles? Chocobos? Fat chocobos who blow spit bubbles when they sleep? Cait friggin’ Sith? That sort of silliness shows up in several of what I’ll call the humorous fantasy genre.
My favorite manga, which occupies a small yet embarrassing amount of real estate on my bookshelf, was Sorcerer Hunters. At face value, it’s about a team of agents deployed to take out rogue magicians. Underneath, though, was an undercurrent of silly sex jokes: the girls were secret dominatrices, a super-handsome guy looked like a woman, and the resident beefcake was often flexing for his own benefit but would end up pursuing anyone — male or female — who was prettier than him. Introduce these concepts to mainstream American fantasy, and I’m sure we’d be hearing the sounds of a thousand monocles dropping into a thousand teacups… and more agog at the spirit of fun than the implied S&M.
Fey Winds, a webcomic written and illustrated by Montreal native Nicole Chartrand, follows in the same tradition. (Disclaimer: despite title, comic is not really about Tina Fey. Nor do any of the characters look anything like Tina Fey. Sigh.) Manga readers may encounter several elements that feel familiar. Maybe even too familiar. More on that later.
Fey Winds introduces us to a lush fantasy world covered in hills and grassy green plains. The buildings are of the hewn stone, thatched roof variety. Medieval Europe, in essence, one of the oddly popular settings for Japanese fantasy. (The other being some sort of ungodly techno-medieval mash-up with some traits of feudal Japan thrown in.) A rather informal-sounding narration details the main crux of the comic. The Sylphe — which is some sort of orange skinned woman with spiky wings who, in the past, did something to heal the war-torn lands — has left behind three artifacts in fantasy world. These magic MacGuffins tend to attract greedy treasure hunters looking to make a name for themselves.
Treasure hunters like … our three heroes.
Larina is an elven lass who encountered a magic jewel in her younger age. As a result, the jewel got embedded in her forehead, and her will is bent to whatever formless spirit happens to be passing by. Nigel is a tall blonde dude with a fashionable, muy macho scar. The alleged lothario is cursed by a vengeful witch who compels him to follow a “girl who is not a girl.” (Not much of a curse, admittedly, but the assumption here is that he would end up following a transvestite.) That girl would be Kit, a feisty, freckled redhead. She’s really a fox (the animal, not the euphemism), but was cursed by another vengeful witch into taking on the form of a human girl. So, you see, she’s not really a girl… although, undoubtedly, she was probably a girl fox, which is technically still a girl.
Hmmm… methinks free will is a luxury in this here fantasy tale. Either that, or this is one of those cases when, for the public good, magic use in a fantasy world should seriously be curtailed through bureaucratic intervention. Or maybe some sort of criminal profiling on vengeful witches.
Fey Winds is split into mostly self-contained chapters. Our first chapter finds our heroes chasing after Item #3 on their worldwide scavenger hunt: the magical mirror. The team suspects that it’s in the possession of a vain prince. The prince becomes attracted to Larina, Larina seems to be crazy attracted in turn (thanks to a wandering spirit who messes with her mind), and Kit and Nigel must stage a rescue attempt. After a wild series or shenanigans, the group finds a new teammate in the prince’s brother, who has been cursed (curse these curses!) into turning into a gigantic green dragon when in a state of panic. Kinda like a fantasy version of the Incredible Hulk. Then it’s off to the next exciting adventure!
Which, incidentally is another goofball story. We’re introduced to another new teammate, this time a furry blue fella with horns and spectacles. At least we get to see the kids prance about in fashionable period wear. (Which looks to be from the Eighteenth Century Marie Antoinette collection, for some reason.) Then some big hulking monster attacks, the clothes come off (equal opportunity cheesecake for the boys and girls!), there’s crazy misunderstandings all around, and everyone gets all super-deformed and stuff.
The storyline proper kicks off with Chapter Three (the last chapter at the time of this review). We know this because the characters spend less time joking around and more time reflecting on the ramifications of their actions. There’s some sort of betrayal, talk about golems, and some ominous-looking characters. And something called The Fey, who are probably important as they are featured in the series’ title. I’m not sure: the exposition got unnaturally heavy around here. “Unnatural” in two senses: first, that the flow of the story ground to a halt, and second, that the manga aesthetic tends to favor fewer words and longer build-up for dramatic revelations. The third chapter may be where the story starts, but to me it felt needlessly cluttered, as if there was a page limit and all bases must be covered. There’s no time to breathe.
Most of the characters tend to be of the fun-loving variety, and they are indeed quite a joy to be around. They share the type of camaraderie that you see in your friends to that you wish your friends were like. The core three — Larina, Nigel, and Kit — almost seem like brothers and sisters around each other. It’s one of the comic’s most positive aspects: these are characters you won’t mind spending time with, even if they do absolutely nothing but mercilessly tease each other for an entire chapter.
Thus there are some characterizations that doesn’t totally ring true for me. We’re told, via Kit’s narration, that Nigel is some sort of cad that no one wants to spend a lot of time with. But in the story itself, he seems to be a pretty good guy beyond an isolated faux pas or two, and his two gal pals seem pretty easy around him. He’s more of a handsome dork, which, if I understand Adam Sandler movies correctly, most ladies tend to find an irresistible combination. Trying to spread nasty rumors so you can have Nigel all for yourself, eh, Kit, you saucy minx? Or it could be a gregarious example of an “informed attribute.” You decide, America.
I’m not sure if Mlle. Chartrand does her own coloring, but if she does, I have to congratulate her on the vivid color palette. It’s the first thing that really grabbed me when I viewed a piece of sample artwork on her ComixTalk interview. There are a lot of lovely blues and greens in the above ground settings, and bright browns and oranges in the underground. It’s clean, eyecatching, and refreshing, like viewing a cel-shaded anime panel.
The artwork is incredibly attractive as well. Mlle. Chartrand excels in scenes depiction motion, whether they’re action scenes or more subtle sequences where things blow in the wind. Still, Fey Winds sometimes falls into the pool of indistinguishable sameness that ensnare manga style webcomics and, truth be told, published manga comics alike. Character designs tend to fall into the standard manga template, nearly interchangeable from pin-ups drawn by any number of DeviantArt members.
Which brings me to this nagging criticism: does anyone else think that this team of adventurers look a lot like the ones from Slayers? Granted, I’ve only watched snippets of this show from the time it was on cable. So when you’ve got a team that consists of a spunky redhead, a towering blonde swordsman, a raven-haired sorceress, and a fuzzy blue guy, it’s hard not to think of Lina Inverse, Gourry, Naga, and Zelgadis Greywords. Oh, the personalities are different, to be sure. However, if these two teams met in the same room, they’d probably come to the conclusion that the other group was the Bizarro version of themselves.
By the way, a girl who was originally a fox? Kit… there’s a blonde-haired kid in an orange jumpsuit who wants his gimmick back. Believe it!
And yet, perhaps Mlle. Chartrand shouldn’t be judged too harshly on this. She is, after all, operating under the fantasy genre, where everything is either ripping-off J.R.R. Tolkien or ripping-off Mervyn Peake. Heck, Terry Brooks made his career on a thinly disguised retelling of Lord of the Rings. Should we not give manga style comics the same benefit? Is it so wrong if every manga fantasy reads like a JRPG? People keep coming back to fantasy because they have expectations that need to be delivered. Stuff like Perdido Street Station are for jaded hipsters. Jaded, joyless hipsters who no longer believe in fairies, magic, or the power of love. Yeah, screw you, China Miéville!
Despite the sometimes incomprehensible plot, despite the derivativeness of the character designs, despite the reliance on gags and humor that were overplayed in manga and anime 8 years ago, I still found Fey Winds enjoyable. Maybe because, in my hardest of hearts, I’m still enamored by manga-style artwork and unnaturally perky female protagonists. If Fey Winds‘ overreaching goal was to be fun and charming, then mission accomplished. The story, though, seems to be struggling as the plot becomes more involved, which is the direction that the fey winds seem to be blowing.*
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
* – Heh. See what I did there? Admittedly, it would be much more impressive if everyone else didn’t do that exact same joke.
Posted on December 1, 2008, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, anime, fantasy webcomic, manga style webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, Uncategorized, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Fey Winds. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.