Quests have been a staple of storytelling for eons. They provide a narrative core, reveal hidden secrets about the world, and motivate characters through their own internal journeys, be they coming of age, redemption, or otherwise. Matt Kindt and Matt Smith’s Folklords takes on the tropes and implications of quests head-on, as they use one to do all of the above.
The world of Folklords seems pretty generically fantasy based in the first issue. Most of the characters are human, but they dress like they’re from fairy tales, in medieval robes and garments. The few nonhumans are integrated within society and don’t seem to be treated differently from everyone else. Children grow up to become cobblers, ironsmiths, carpenters, and farmers, but before they come of age they go on quests — to seek adventure, but more importantly to come into their own. This is the world in which Ansel, the main point-of-view character of the series, has grown up.
Ansel is intended to be depicted as abnormal within this world. He dresses in modern clothing and has visions of what readers could consider the “real world,” all in direct opposition to the world that surrounds him. But the initial framing of the comic negates this effect entirely — Ansel wakes up and goes outside in a suit, with his mother questioning his choice of attire but not pushing. When Ansel runs into the world and they react, it’s not framed as Ansel being weird, it seems as if he’s the one in the right and everyone else is just too far behind him. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, this dynamic doesn’t mesh well with the picture Ansel paints later on — that he doesn’t fit in and feels out of place with the world — and his explanation for why he’s going on a quest doesn’t land right.
The quest Ansel chooses is to seek out the Folklords, who according to Ansel would be able to explain why he has these visions of another world. There’s not really much else given about them, because everyone shuts down any and all discussion of the Folklords. This seems to be a cultural behavior at first, before someone declares this quest in public and the entire ceremony gets shut down by the Librarians, who declare that quests have to be predetermined now. This is clearly intended to feel like an oppressive regime putting its fist down, but the Librarians’ lack of presence before this appearance makes it feel less impactful. This doesn’t feel like a totalitarian regime cracking down on its people, it feels like this random group invading and everyone acquiescing. The Librarians’ authority is undermined further later on, as the lone Librarian tasked with keeping people inside the town just lets Ansel and his friend leave. This is portrayed as something wrong, but there hasn’t been enough to establish what the standard is for the Librarians.
Matt Smith’s artwork is expressive and fun, and gives the entire world a bit of a fairy tale quality to it. The linework and character acting are strong, and the colors by Chris O’Halloran are effective. The biggest weakness in the art is how it paces moments. There’s panels that end up quite small that feel like they should be treated with more significance, and major story and character beats end up getting swallowed up by larger panels. There’s some fun paneling early on that eventually goes by the wayside because of just how much happens on each page.
Ultimately this book is a solid beginning to an interesting new story, but it ends up being bogged down by its desire to rush into the meat of the story. The first issue ends on a good note, but the stakes aren’t well-pronounced and there isn’t a proper status quo established. This issue needed more pages to better establish itself, or needed to be split into two issues – one for exposition and setting the status quo, and the next for properly diving into the story. Kindt and Smith push the story forward quickly, but it leads to the issue not getting any time to breathe. The world is interesting and the characters are well-realized, but the book’s pace really hurt the experience.
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