by Doug Smith
As most comics fans know, the industry lost one of its brightest stars a year ago today, when artist Mike Wieringo died far too young of a sudden heart attack. Over the weekend, I read the trade paperback of what many people say was the work nearest and dearest to his heart, the fantasy series Tellos, which he created with writer Todd Dezago.
Tellos is a fantasy world, and our heroes include the young Jarek, the giant tiger Koj (who is Jarek's guardian and best friend), the beautiful female pirate Serra, and the troublemaking duo of Hawke and Rikk. The story is a familiar one, as it is mostly about Jarek's hero quest; he is the "one" who has been prophesied will save Tellos from the dark lord Malesur, provided that Jarek can find the "other" who will help him to free the power of a captured djinn. The hero quest is just about the oldest type of tale in existence, and Jarek will bring to mind any number of idealistic young heroes-to-be, from Frodo to Luke Skywalker to Neo. Koj is the Obi-Wan to Jarek's Luke, and comparisons to other key Star Wars cast members can be made for Serra (Leia), Malesur (Darth Vader), the old mage Thomestharustra (Yoda), and Hawke and Rikk (Han and Chewie). There's a reason this type of story has been passed down through the ages though; it works. Dezago doesn't try to reinvent the wheel here; he embraces the tradition of the heroic journey and gets the most out of his take on the legend. Yes, some of the dialogue seems out of place in a fantasy setting (a dragon named Brad who says "Dude" and "par-tay"?), but it's a refreshing change from the standard medieval-speechifying so often found in this genre, and there's a solid story reason for it.
What really makes the tale so great, though, is the tone that Dezago and Wieringo perfectly capture from start to finish. This is a fun, light-hearted book that is perfect for all ages. Wieringo always employed a cartoony style that, while I sometimes didn't feel it was quite right for some of his mainstream superhero work, is just pitch-perfect here. From everything I've ever read about 'Ringo, he missed the days of comics being fun, and wanted to bring that back. It's to his credit that he never wavered from this belief, never adopted the "kewl" style of dark, edgy, grim 'n' gritty so popular in the past two decades. In Tellos, he created a world that was perfect for his sensibilities. Even when the story does turn dark, 'Ringo shrewdly pulls the camera back, never getting too graphic or scary in scenes of violence. His depiction of Serra is lovely and sexy without being gratuitous; it's the same kind of beauty you would see in Disney heroines like Princess Jasmine. A romantic interlude between Serra and Hawke is set up so that the scene has context beyond the possible sexual nature, allowing parents an "out" to explain to their kids just what is going on in that scene. Adding greatly to the overall tone is colorist Paul Mounts, who favors big, bright, vibrant colors; again, a breath of fresh air compared to the dark, muted palletes so in favor nowadays.
Tellos hits all the right notes, with action, fun, humor, some scares, some romance, and some tragedy. But it's always done in a way that feels like a true labor of love for the creators. Wieringo was a master of conveying emotion through facial expressions; the slightest change in a character's features reveal more than a half-dozen panels crammed with expository dialogue. His artwork is beautifully detailed without ever being busy or confusing, and his pacing and storytelling skills are stellar; the story flows wonderfully from panel to panel and page to page.
The ending of Tellos features a nice twist over the course of the last two chapters, which adds to the emotion already on display, increases the depth of the storytelling, and provides for a bittersweet but emotionally satisfying climax. When I was done, I wanted to read the story again, because the knowledge gained at the end of the story brings a whole new level of artistry to the tale.
I know that several of the other writers for the Bad Genious have young children, and this is a book that I would highly recommend that you read to your kids; it's the kind of tale you can read over and over again and it should fire their imagination.
In his afterword, Todd Dezago mentions that he and Mike have "four or five more" story arcs planned. Sadly, that afterword was written just a few months before 'Ringo passed away, and the two will not be able to work together again. But reading the book in light of Mike's passing brings a new, deeper understanding of the book's themes and enriches the experience.
Thanks Todd. Thanks Paul. But most of all...thanks 'Ringo.
by Doug Smith