Comics review: The Ludocrats by Gillen, Rossignol, Stokely, Bonvillain, Cowles

(issue #1 cover image B by Jamie McKelvie courtesy Image Comics)

If there is one thing that this quirk-obsessed reviewers adores, love and sends 100 dozen roses to on Valentine’s Day, it is a story that goes full Mad Cow Disease imaginative, puts the pedal to the sugar high idiosyncratic pedal and goes wherever the hyper-coloured inspiration takes them.

Which is why, even as these words are being typed, arrangements are being made for a wedding with sentient wheat bags and snakes in attendance naturally (because how you could you not?) for a full-blown marriage, witnessed by an Adjudication Gecko, to The Ludocrats, a deliciously manic, offbeat and mad as a cut snake series from writers Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol, artist Jeff Stokely, colorist Tamra Bonvillain, and letterer Clayton Cowles, which worships at the feet of heady, indulgent excess and abhors only one thing – boredom.

To be boring in the world of The Ludocrats, where wedding attendees include cannibals diverted from their murderous appetites by indentured clowns, alien superbugs subjugator Vork Mibula and Guidula Sterliphainm owner of a chain of submerged singles bars, is a cardinal sin and one for which the penalty is usually death.

Certainly it is hated beyond all measure by Steam-Judge Otto Van Subertan, a garrulous, sex-charged corpulent host with a lustrously thick orange beard and an obsession with endless, debauched and very fun partying, for who being boring is the very worst of things that you can be.

He thunders and roars and stomps around with vivacious impatience should anyone so much as veer anywhere in the general direction of mundanity and banality with the man who must be persuaded to wear clothes by his very best friend Dr Hades, who adores his frankly weird offspring such as the multi-tentacled Shoggod Muir, the Collapsed Sire of Subertan, is in rutting love with Grattinia Gavelstein, High Steam-Judge of New Prussia and discoverer of four new species of orgasm in the steamy rainforests of Monaco and who swings his axe with an alacrity borne of hyper-energised obsession.

If that description tells you anything, it is that The Ludocrats is as over-the-top silly and yes, ludicrously so, as it is possibly get channelling a beguiling mixed bag of influences from Asterix and Obelix, Monty Python, The Goodies, Alice in Wonderland and Douglas Adams, all stirred in with vivid, candy store colours, worldbuilding par excellence and more heart and soul than you might expect of something this giddily loopy.

(issue #2 cover image A by Jeff Stokely courtesy Image Comics)

The genius, and yes, it is genius if you are someone who adores things going gloriously and chaotically off-kilter – if you’re not then you will wonder what the hell is going on and why – of The Ludocrats is that its world makes absolute sense in its gaily-bedecked, logic-defying, normality-subverting nonsensicality.

It may look hilariously silly and indulgent to a steroid-laced whimsical degree, and it most certainly is, but underneath the highly-enjoyable mania and mayhem, with dialogue so jaunty and gleeful it comes close to walking off the page with unrestrained vivacity, it is at heart the story of people who simply want to live their lives free of the constraints of the bland and the normal.

Without giving anything away, there is a point in this five-issue series where things do get a little blander than anyone wants or needs and it becomes quite clear quite quickly that without a sense of the ludicrous that the world fast becomes a place so enervating and dispiriting that remaining there is a bridge too far and must be opposed at every turn.

The Ludocrats practically screams out to people – Otto never says anything at a standard volume if thundering hilarity will do instead – to kick the guts out of the banal, stare down the mundane and tell heteronormativity to take a great big hike of epic, interdimensional proportions.

Again, if you are delicate in sensibilities and prefer your world to be made up of nice, neat lines, set colours and ordered, narrative progression, then this is most imaginative of series likely isn’t for you.

BUT if you are someone who luxuriates in the different, glories in the avuncularly strange and who hates boring exposition (which is, rather happily, a much put-upon character and storyline high point) then you will become besotted with The Ludocrats faster than you can say conceptual drawing room.

(issue #3 cover image A by Jeff Stokely courtesy Image Comics)

Rather joyously and conveniently for a visual artform, The Ludocrats has lushly colourful artwork to match its vast and gleamingly nonsensical narrative aspirations.

Otto, as you might expect, is a giant of a man, all big, expansive movements and vivid oranges, pink and purples, his every action couched in gleefully over-exaggerated facial expressions and messily fun mannerisms.

By contrast, Dr Hades is far more measured, a personality and mindset that is reflected in a characters who is all clean lines, prim and proper speech and a more subdued though still eye-poppingly interesting colourations.

Other main players in the cast such as the traitorous Voldigan the Perfidious and Elaina Triptych (who acquires a pet zombie human by hilariously unusual means) , both of whom are rendered in geometric blacks, and celebrated ludicrous chef Bogol Theen who giant swollen left eye suggests a man who has been rather too active in the meat-laden kitchens of Otto’s house.

The colour scheme through the five issues, save for a few key pages, is multi-coloured wonder – “wonder” by the way is the very thing that the baddy of the piece is keen to stamp out, very much in the vein of The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story, with bland, universal homogenisation the end goal – a riot of candy-soaked colours, rich, out there tones and places so varied and clever that they look like all the fairytale places you have ever imagined sprung cacophonically and deliciously to life.

It is, in so many ways, the perfect marriage of oddball narrative with complementary artwork, the two working together to such pleasingly weird effect that you will cackle at glee, not just at the witty oneliners, madcap characters and quirky af scenarios and places, but simply because you are in the midst of it and it is indeed, delightfully, heart-affirmingly, strangely, crazily wondrous.

In a year when normal has gone clear out the window, and you feel like you’ve been plunged into a blender of strangeness and oddity, The Ludocrats is the perfect antidote, its charming, heartfelt silliness, anchored by friendship, tenacity and a desperate need for weird ass longing and connection, so out there that it makes your newly upside down world seem more than manageable.

(issue #4 cover image B by Mirka Andolfo courtesy Image Comics)
(issue #5 cover image B by Skottie Young courtesy Image Comics)

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