Vault Comics has really become something special in the world of comics. As Vertigo falls, its spirit lives on in the ethos of Vault, which looks to the future and has continually put out some of the most exciting indie work in the market right now. They can range from critiques of culture in the likes of Friendo to diss-tracks on the assumptions of creators and aspiring creators in the form of Fearscape. But the publisher has also shown a commitment to diversity in their output, with incredible work such as These Savage Shores and in line with that commitment, we now have Sera and the Royal Stars. Created by Jon Tsuei, Audrey Mok, Raul Angulo and Jim Campbell, it’s a title that welcomes everyone into a wild new world of fantasy.
Right from the very start, anyone familiar with Vault and the great aesthetic and design sensibility that accompanies all of their books should be grinning with how lovely the book looks. And it only helps emphasize just how breathtakingly beautiful the entire book is. Audrey Mok is a superstar and one of the best artists working right now, with a style that is instantly recognizable and a skill for storytelling that just leaps off the pages, as shown here. The world deserves a fantasy world designed by her and at last, we finally have it. With Tsuei’s vision matching Mok’s strengths perfectly, the work is a very special debut.
The premise is fairly simple: you have a kingdom at war with itself, a conflict of brothers in a bid for the throne and power. A family at odds. And you have a princess granted an epic quest, one that if not undertaken, may destroy all her people and everything she holds dear. It’s a mission that’s been attempted before and yet has only resulted in disaster and failure, the ramifications of which are still being felt. All of these are fairly classical elements of fantasy fiction, but it’s a hell of a lot to fun to see Tsuei, Mok, Angulo and Campbell’s specific take on them.
Mok really breathes life into the world that Tsuei’s script imagines, giving it all the texture and unique aesthetics that result in a unique flavor, while Angulo just unleashes the majesty of this world and its characters with his color work. While Mok takes care of the body language and the basic storytelling, Angulo accentuates and adds to each beat, whether it be a slight shift in a panel where yellow turns to orange, or a close-up meaning the color is deepened. Then there’s the absolutely astonishing “cosmic” pages that look like nothing else in the story, which is very much the point and the entire pages’ gutters switch to pure black over the typical white, visually distinguishing the reality of the rest of the comic from the vastly more overpowering and mysterious dreamlike state. Even Jim Campbell shines, as expected, masterfully handling placement to blend Tsuei and Mok/Angulo’s efforts together cohesively. His choice of the balloon tails extending inwards into the balloons, essentially laid on top, really works for the book, adding almost a sort of “formal” sensibility to the speech in a way, which is interesting. You don’t look at and it think “oh it’s just like any other regular balloon in another comic,” and that’s a very good thing when you’re setting up a whole new fantasy world, which people will want to explore.
And speaking of the fantasy world, that’s something very much worth discussing. An Audrey Mok-designed fantasy world — how exciting is that?! And better yet, it’s a world full of people of color, with them being at the absolute forefront, it’s their story, on every level. How rare is that?! Tsuei, Mok, Angulo and Campbell really lay down a rich universe full of cosmic messenger gods, prophecies and premonitions, strange libraries and other oddities. There’s a sense of wonder and joy here, wherein you’re transported to the feeling you first felt when you discovered fantastical worlds you resonated with. There’s that wild feeling of discovery, of “what comes next? what else is there?” That excitement is very much prevalent here, and what’s really lovely is Sera’s influences are not the typical fantasy influences. It’s a classic narrative, but it’s more Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra and less Lord of the Rings. This isn’t another fantasy world drawing from the same pit of European-inspired kingdoms and worlds, where everyone is predominantly white. That’s reflected even in the clothing here, designed carefully by Tsuei, Mok and Angulo. Whether it be in battle or in bed, there’s a distinction here, as you’re not being given the same old tired visuals and there’s an entirely other part of the whole that’s being used as inspiration. The part that isn’t explored as much in American comics and fantasy narratives of this sort. It’s the sort of thing that makes you grin and say, “finally!”
The title speaks of “The Royal Stars,” and they are presented as almost locked away spirits who are seemingly the Zodiac essentially, and they must be freed for the safety of Sera’s world, as dark figures at play. If that helps give you a sense of the sort of “spine” of the narrative, then get on board, as this is a book full of big battles, cosmic spirits of stellar might and mysteries that are just being set up and teased. But at the heart of it all is a family — it’s personal. It’s a personal conflict blown out to be this expansive narrative, which is perfect. Sera’s an affable, confident heroine for the book, often feeling emotionally real and self-reflective and thoughtful. She’s an easy character to invest in and her archetypal quest, one that her mother once undertook, looks to be a hell of a lot of fun.
If you’re looking to rediscover the awe and wonder of fantasy, that also feels refreshing while being an intimate yet epic tale starring people of color, Sera and the Royal Stars deserves to be on your pull list. Vault has once again struck gold with Tsuei, Mok, Angulo and Campbell and this is a ride you’ll want to be on board for. It’s only going to get better from here.
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