Callum’s Webcomic Corner
Callum Waterhouse ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
ART BY: Sarah Ellerton
At some point, someone must have come up with a winning formula. These days it seems impossible to skim the world of entertainment without running into a movie, comic or young adult novel that tries to combine elements of classic literature with this week’s pop culture monster. You could blame the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for starting us down this road, but truth be told, the trend started long before Seth Grahame-Smith. Derivative romance stories have always sold well, and it would seem like the trend of adding a brief supernatural flourish to the mix will not be going away any time soon.
These disconcerting trends are precisely what make Sara Ellerton’s The Phoenix Requiem feel like such a breath of fresh air. Finally, here is an example of a genre mashup where the different elements complement one another, rather than distract! Finally, here is a love story where the other elements are there to add to the romance and not the other way around! Plenty of recent authors have tried to reinterpret classic literature for a modern audience, from The Odyssey done as a drug fueled space adventure to Alice in Wonderland reimagined as a dystopian future. Ellerton has managed to succeed where these others have tried. Her comic has successfully married the form of Jane Austen with the fun of J. K. Rowling.
The Phoenix Requiem is set in a magic version of Victorian England. The story centers on the romance between doctor-to-be Anya Katsukova and the mysterious aristocrat Jonas Faulkner. Despite the fantastical setting, the story is a Victorian style love story through and through. The twist in the formula is that the wrinkle in these two’s relationship comes not in the form of differences of nation, or class, or an incredibly contrived case of consumption, but from an impending supernatural war.
Thankfully, Ellerton managed to avoid the usual traps that make these character types usually grating. Jonas is the standard charming, roguish gentleman that readers will likely be familiar with. However, Jonas actually comes across as genuinely charming and vulnerable rather than a cad whom everyone praises for no adequate reason. Likewise, Anya plays the familiar role of the girl who shies away from romance to pursue her career, and for once these rebuffs feel genuine rather than a contrivance to draw out the story. In this way, Ellerton has succeeded at the hardest but most important aspect of any romance, giving us two leads the readers will actually want to see get together.
The character designs indicate a manga influence, but make no mistake, in terms of panel layout and story pacing, this is certainly an American style comic. The artwork shows a deft touch for perspective, switching from drawn back vantage points to more personal close-ups. Most comic books these days try to feel cinematic, but this one actually reads like a fine movie.
Where the artwork really shines is in its use of color. In keeping with the Victorian setting, Ellerton uses color expressively, often setting the tone of a scene with her choice of how the backgrounds are colored–the cool green of a romantic morning, the warm yellow of a childhood memory, the mysterious purple of a night of supernatural intrigue. The art usually tells the story so well that you could probably take out the words and still know everything that is going on.
If you did take out the words, however, you would be missing so much. In addition to the brilliant romantic leads, The Phoenix Requiem boasts a strong supporting cast and a great sense of mystery. Every character feels important and every beat feels essential to the narrative.
Readers who are hoping to get invested in this story should be prepared for the long haul. Including chapter break pages, the entire story is eight hundred pages long. Like any good love story, the narrative starts out slow, letting readers get to know the characters before things start to really pick up, both in terms of the romance and the supernatural intrigue. It is a worthwhile read, but not one that should be attempted in one sitting.