Graphic novel review: Inkblot (issues 1 – 5) by Emma Kubert and Rusty Gladd

(image courtesy Image Comics)

We’ve all had bad days at work, right?

Sent an email with highly confidential comments meant for one person and one person only to Reply All. Or we’ve accidentally deleted a document we spent all day on and no amount of IT wizardry can summon it back from the Microsoft void.

But spare a thought for a powerful sorceress known only as The Seeker, a member of a powrful troop of siblings who variously rule the world or seek to make peace or explore, all thanks to their subjugation of magical creatures and the appropriation in death of their special powers, who falls asleep after a great deal of study in her library one day, only to wake up and find she has summoned an inky cat-shaped demon with the ability to zip at will and whimsy through time, space and reality.

Makes your days look kind of tame, right?

Even worse than that, after the cat has dragged The Seeker into the Mountainlands realm, one of a number of worlds which exist side-by-side but which don’t connect in the fantasy land in which the sorceress lives, where she is almost eaten by rampaging giants (let’s hear it for magical portals opening just in time!) before losing her sleep-induced creation.

Yup, not only is there is a demon made of ink and magic wandering hither and yon, but The Seeker has no idea where they have gone or what they might up to.

It’s a brilliantly imaginative set-up that powers the Inkblot series from Image Comics created by Emma Kubert and Rusty Gladd into a series of engagingly executed standalone and yet connected stories which show what has happened to the land in which The Seeker lives and to the siblings who rule over it.

As premises go this is a doozy, made all the more palpably appealing by artwork which summons the land of The Seeker, which is ruled by her brother Xenthas Voidbreaker from the Living Castle which was created “to end countless wars against our people before they began”, from the reaches of your mind into almost flesh-and-blood reality on the pages of the comic,.

It’s never really fully-explained where the siblings came from although we do see them, thanks to Inkblot’s powerful meandering – so powerful that dragons and sea creatures of legend heed its “Mow” commands – at the beginning of their journey to knowledge and power, one which is stained with more than a little colonial domination.

(image courtesy Image Comics)

The brilliance of Inkblot, quite apart from its arresting art which is whimsical and colourful and fun, and yet suitably scary and serious when required, is that it manages to be both soberly intense and hilariously fun at the same time.

It helps that Inkblot, for all their near-omnipotent command of space, time and reality, is ridiculously adorable and cute and that their chilled sage journey here and there, which may or may not involve the dumping of a fresh corpse of a 4000-year-old person at the feet of The Seeker, is actually often comedic thanks to their apparent ambivalence.

Truth be told, over the five issues under review here, it becomes patently obvious that for all of Inkblot’s cuteness and feline lack of regard for anything around them, they may actually be up to something.

Quite what it is isn’t immediately obvious but Kubert and Gladd seem happy to build the overarching narrative issue-by-issue, taking care with consummately built-up worldbuilding, characters that leap off the page with vibrancy and a 3D humanity and a storyline that supplies some answers but keep a whole lot of mystery in play too, to create the universe of Inkblot in all its reality-defying glory.

By all accounts, theirs is more of a collaborative partnership with the two comic artists sharing drawing and writing duties, a unique process that likely grants Inkblot a sense of wholeness that some other graphic novels lack.

Whatever the secret to their working partnership, Inkblot is immensely clever, deftly combining a whimsically delightful air with some seriously good and robust storytelling.

Yes, you are amused by Inkblot’s cat-like disregard for what anyone else wants and The Seeker’s desperately comedic race to track them down, but there is a building sense that something serious and possibly wrong is going on here evidenced in part by the way the native elves of the land, who were resident there first and by some considerable margin, are almost prisoners in their own world.

This is rich, substantial fantasy in light, bright garb, both narrative and visual, and it works a treat, making Inkblot one of those Scandinavian-like creative endeavours where darkness and threat and the sense of something wicked this way comes – perhaps the consequences of the violent sins that got the siblings into power in the first place? – are rendered with words, sensibility and artwork that suggests brightness and fun, which we all know will crumble when what lies beneath rears up and finally asserts itself in coming issues.

(image courtesy Image Comics)

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