Why should you be reading The Autumnlands? For one, the art is gorgeous. I’ve got copies of the new Darth Vader comics, Ms. Marvel, Rat Queens, Saga, The Walking Dead sitting on my bookshelf. Only Saga has artwork that even comes close to that in The Autumnlands. It’s detailed, beautifully drawn, wildly inventive, and richly colored. Nobody draws animals like Dewey. In addition to the normal panels, the issues are interspersed with two-page spreads more evocative of paintings (more on those in a bit).
Why am I talking about The Autumnlands here? What if I told you that it is billed as “Game of Thrones meets Kamandi”? Wait, wait! We’re all adults here, right? (Right? I had better watch my language.) We know what this is. It’s marketing. Busiek himself points to Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories as a major influence. But you can’t sell it as The Dying Earth meets Kamandi, because “many of the potential readers would respond to ‘Jack Vance’ with ‘Huh? Who?’” Well, for now. Give Jeffro a couple more years. Busiek points to Conan, too, if you’re not sold yet.
I might have pointed to Schuyler Hernstrom. It was Hernstrom’s The Gift of the Ob-Men that really sold me on pulp. The Autumnlands has so much of what I loved about The Gift of the Ob-Men. The mix of science fiction and fantasy, the sense that it takes place both “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” and in our own distant future. As I described Volume 1, “it’s old school, pulpy stuff: walking, talking animals, magic, floating cities and airships, walking chairs, gigantic winged insects as mounts, and a time-traveler from the past with scifi implants.”
A quick rundown on the story from Volume 1 (with the obvious caveats regarding spoilers, but I’ll try to
keep them to a minimum). The “Autumnlands” is a land of animal-men, everything from bull terriers to warthogs to owls to bison. There is an underclass who lives on the ground, but the aristocrats live on floating cities. Including the sorcerers. Who have a problem. Their magic is fading. They attempt to revive it by reaching back into time and pulling forward the mythical “Champion.” There is a lot of debate over just what sort of creature the Champion is. Dog? Bird? Bear? Nobody expected a human.
Volume 2 makes clear that this is Dusty and Learoyd’s story, not that of the floating city. Dusty is a bull terrier pup, and the newly orphaned son of a rich merchant. Learoyd is the champion. The dynamic between the two really works. Dusty is the earnest, callow youth, ready for a Hero’s Journey. He is also available to provide info dumps as necessary. Learoyd is the hard-bitten, reluctant hero. He’s a soldier. He doesn’t have any loyalties in his new world, he’s a mercenary. He’s also basically a sci fi special forces operator. The people of this world haven’t seen anything like him. But he also left his entire world behind, including a family.
Volume 2 starts to pull back the layers on the world of the Autumnlands. It wasn’t always called that. And it isn’t just populated by animal-men. We for the first time see humans other than Learoyd. Dewey would get along with Frazetta. Although they might argue over beers the relative feminine merits of the northern and southern hemispheres. (The Autumnlands is not terribly family-friendly.) I’m kind of disappointed that we left the floating city story, but I’m loving the slow reveal of the world.
About those two-page spreads. They’re another attempt to evoke the pulp spirit. The titles, each different, are in a style from mid-century slicks, but the prose excerpts are pure pulp. Each tells a kernel of the story from the perspective of a writer from some time in the future of the main story timeline. It’s another nice touch.
We need more graphic novels like this.
4.5 of 5 Stars.
Throwback SF Thursday: The Autumnlands vol. 2 by Kurt Busiek was originally published at the Castalia House Blog.