In a fantasy landscape, two heroes set off on two very different journeys. One, Stein, is determined to track down a dragon. The other, Lynn, is trying to dodge her birth rite and just pass all of her tests and be sealed to a weapon. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in this beautiful land as freakish wyverns take to the sky.
Ravine really is something completely different.
In a recent interview with Comic Booked, Stjepan Sejic stated that “I hate comic format. 20 pages? Please!…I want to tell a good story. And for fantasy genre, graphic novel is the way to go.” This book shuns the traditional comic book format and is instead a chunky, 125 page opening to what is shaping up to be a truly epic saga. The format is rather refreshing and the book itself isn’t even split into shorter chapters. This book is the first chapter. The book opens with a short prologue and then the reader is thrown into the story. No messing around and no patronising mini-cliff-hangers every 22 pages. Just lush, detailed fantasy.
Over time, we English speakers have rather bastardised the word “epic”. In fact, the word refers to great stories that talk of the deeds of heroes. In that respect, “epic” is the perfect word for describing Ravine. It opens up to a Lord-of-the-Rings-meets-Game-of-Thrones-style battle sequence. A somewhat maddened king of causing trouble. His people have risen up against him and he’s planning something big. The scale of the prologue is second to none and it’s a great opening to the book. Top Cow posted a preview of Ravine a few weeks ago and it is jaw-dropping. This features none of the lettering but should give you a clue at what kind of thing we’re talking about here. The preview was, in fact, a fair chunk of the prologue and should give you a taste of the rest of the book.
The rest of the book, of course, does not disappoint. The book follows two parallel plots of two different characters. The crafty Stein and the hard-working Lynn. While Stein is determined to track down a dragon and hide from his past, Lynn is a dragon rider who is doing her best to avoid the responsibility of her family name. Each character seems so set on the path they have chosen that they are doing everything in their power to avoid the path that has been laid out for them.
Sejic is a fan of character-based stories. Even though he features a lot of fantastic imagery in his work, the characters are always what matters. In fact, even readers of his erotica webcomic, Sunstone, will admit that its focus is on its heroines, rather than the sexy bondage time they occasionally have together. Ravine is no different. It may begin with a grand battle, but after that the focus is entirely on its characters and getting us better acquainted with them. While Stein seems like a bit of a charming rogue, with his penchant for magic and his peculiar hat, Lynn is by far the more interesting character. I could instantly relate to her and I think many readers will feel the same. She knows what she wants to do but responsibility keeps getting in the way. She’s worked so damn hard to achieve her dreams but life keeps interfering, so sure to put her back on her destined course. It’s rather heartbreaking but she’s so likeable.
It’s a pretty big cast of characters. There are all the royals we meet in the prologue, then Stein’s ragtag bunch of magicians and adventurers, then Lynn’s peers, as well as all kinds of extra nobles for the B plot. In any other comic book, this would be a complaint. There really are a lot of characters in this book. However, in any fantasy novel, this amount of characters is not unusual. Just look at Game of Thrones and its huge cast. Yes, that amount of characters can seem alarming at first, but it becomes a strength of the fantasy genre once you know who’s who. It gives the text a rich back-story and adds weight to any political context (who’s warring or allying with who).
Onto my favourite topic when it comes to Top Cow books…the art. And wow. Just…wow. Stjepan Sejic is my favourite artist working in the industry today and he does not disappoint in this book. While interviewing him for Comic Booked, Sejic sent over a selection of art. This project has been a real labour of love for Sejic and creative partner, Marz (who worked closely with Sejic to perfect the script). Top Cow have a solid back catalogue of titles that are safe and guaranteed to sell, but they took a risk and supported Sejic’s project and as a result we have this gorgeous book. It’s a real achievement for creator-owned comics. Sejic’s art is the book’s strong point. Like in Artifacts, Sejic and Marz include fantastic two-page spreads that allow for the bigger elements – i.e. dragons! – to fit comfortably on the pages. Even little things like the chapter headings and the divides between chapters are beautiful. Seldom have I seen a more beautiful book and I cannot wait for more.
Again, Sejic favours more realistic art, without outlines and with digital colours and shading. It almost looks like watercolours at times. This technique means that the people look expressive and unmistakably human – particularly the women, who always have stunning faces in Top Cow work – and the creatures look freaking scary. Personally, this is what makes this book really jump off the shelf for me. Yes, the story is fantastic and the characters are rich and detailed, but the art is something to behold.
It would be a crime not to have this on your shelf. I would go as far as to say that Ravine is rapidly becoming one of my favourite novels, never mind my favourite graphic novel. It’s a real achievement and one that should have Top Cow feeling pretty smug right now. To Stjepan Sejic and Ron Marz, I say this: Bravo, guys, bravo.