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Okko, Vol. 3
posted February 21, 2011

imageCreator: Hub
Publishing Information: Archaia Studios Press, hardcover, 104 pages, December 2010, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781932386929 (ISBN13), 1932386920 (ISBN10)

This third in a five-book cycle from Archaia is the kind of comic I would have killed for at 12 years old, and it's easy to envision it as the best feature in Epic Illustrated, if that's a benchmark that means anything to you. I definitely had standards at 12 years old; I just preferred a different kind of art then, and was more fully invested in comics that presented straight-forward, genre-indebted narratives in exciting and well-crafted ways. I don't intend deferring to middle-school me as the automatic insult the way it must read. In fact, I can imagine any number of adults enjoying Okko, particularly for the art. The modestly-named Hub seems to be one of those artists you run across in comics that's able to draw anything. There's no cheating: no dropped backgrounds, no overly-stylized sequences, no fancifully-depicted tableaux, no nudging away from difficult set pieces. He jumps right and draws his way out. If you ever wanted to see what standard French storytelling might look like influenced by Japanese artists in terms of motion, this latest Okko will do the trick.

In a narrative told in multiple, overlapping tracks, ronin Okko is invited to see a girl beset by spirits who resists treatment; his team of demon-hunters finds the cause of the ailment and solves the problem. It's a narrative feint; the meat of the story starts with a horrifically violent encounter about halfway through the book brought on by an old acquaintance of Okko's around whom a kind of fanciful, mantis-style armor has been fashioned. The outcome surprised me. My favorite part of the book is how matter-of-fact the violence is and how its results are relayed in fractured fashion: one of the characters gets dropped from the narrative and therefore we lose his point-of-view and corresponding ability to bind the characters together. They are left to their own devices for an extended section, much of which is spent catching up on the latest events and figuring out what's going on.

It's hard for me to tell without re-reading the earlier volumes how much Hub gets out of the harrowing experiences portrayed in terms of character-building. The story suggests that Okko spurns and then learns to re-appreciate various out-sized elements of his companions' personalities in a way that allows him, with their help, to succeed. Similarly, our lead seem to change his mind about a parallel duel in which he's asked to participate, which may indicate a change in stance towards the rightness of doing something for reasons of personal motivation as opposed to negotiating a desired, more practical outcome. The story feels more substantial for that kind of layered thematic work in the same way it gains for the nuances of some of the color and shading involved on the page and for the detailed backgrounds.

Unfortunately, this is all in service of a pretty-straightforward tale and characters we've seen before. I don't think it comes close to reaching a degree of quality where its story becomes universal, where anyone not already oriented towards work of this kind will experience it as a affecting work of art, where you can argue its greater function as a work of art that engages ideas visually or story-wise. The art is accomplished but its virtues are familiar ones; the story and its themes are never examined except in the most facile ways. What happens and why is left to very straight-forward ways of seeing the world. In other words, this not the kind of comic for people that don't care for this kind of comic. But if you want an adventure story, pretty and well-told and meatier than a simpler exercise in portraying a certain kind of physicality on the page, this relatively restrained installment in the Okko series provides that for certain.