With the explosion in popularity for properties like Dungeons and Dragons and Game of Thrones, fantasy, as a genre, has been brought back to forefront of popular culture. The “lone wandering hero” or “sword and sorcery” brand of fantasy may feel like a bit of an anachronism these days though; something that belongs back in the ‘80s with Conan, Hawk the Slayer and Ladyhawke. Gary Proudley’s Talgard is the kind of smart comic-book storytelling that can reinvigorate a genre and open new areas for interpretation. In the character of Talgard, Proudley gives us a smart, strong, creative hero for a modern audience, and simultaneously lays the building blocks of a whole new fantasy world for us to explore.
Talgard: Divine Structures
Structurally the comic is really interesting and continues the Gestalt publishing trademark of creative experimentation; I imagine editor Wolfgang Bylsma just throwing innovative ideas at the page and seeing what works. Talgard is a series of four-page short stories, each written by Proudley, but brought to life by a different penciller and inker. All are coloured by the incredibly talented Justin Randall (creator of Changing Ways) which ties them together and gives the whole thing a cohesion it could easily have missed. This approach gives each tale a space to exist in its own distinctive style, but with a unified design ethic that tells us we are in the same storyworld. So too shall this review be structured in short discrete sections, bBecause we also appreciate a good gimmick.
Talgard and the Anthology of Doom
The choice to make this an anthology of short stories told through the lens of many different creators is supremely smart. Character is built through their actions and short vignettes rather than a single sustained plot. Often in adventure stories characters are defined by actions rather than words; to paraphrase Batman Begins: “It’s not what I say that defines me, it’s what I do”. By the end of this first collection of short stories, you emerge knowing Talgard and his apprentice Tydral well in their roles as teacher and student, but also they remain enough of a mystery that they still have plenty of room to grow.
The different visual styles of the artists lend a feeling of universality and iconography to the characters, in much the same way that older much loved characters like Conan and Tarzan have been reimagined by innumerable artists, so too is Talgard. Is this Frazetta’s Conan or Vallejo’s? Schwarzenegger or Momoa? It’s the interpretation of the artists that allows different characteristics to be revealed slowly: the essential core of the characters shines through the wildly different styles revealing their many facets. You can cut a gem a thousand different ways, but in the end it’s always a diamond.
Colour and tone is beautifully used throughout and the muted earthy palette, along with the golden magic-hour colours, really brings the world to life. It’s really beautiful work by Randall, and no matter how simple and clean the line-work, the colours complement them stunningly. It’s also a joy to see the difference between the penciled and inked pages, and then to see the coloured one and to recognise how much magic is achieved through Randall’s vibrant and distinctive colour work.
Talgard: World Builder
Fantasy is all about creating and fleshing out believable worlds to exist in. Here the world-building is done in a gentle but fascinating way: interactions with Gods and Magic are commonplace, but crossing paths with them always has a cost, and the world-weary Talgard knows how much to pay. These stories span multiple races, numerous kingdoms and a huge array of belief systems and cultures, all of which tell us as much about Talgard as they do the people he interacts with. There is a grand, fantastic landscape alluded to frequently, but it is revealed in short glimpses, which only makes the reader more intrigued to learn. There are very few absolutes in here, morality and duty are decidedly grey areas which leave us wondering if there’s any “right” side at all.
By the end of this first book I wanted to know more about Talgard and Tydral; I wanted to spend more time in their company. I felt like I was learning along with her and growing to understand the complexities of the situations that are happening, as well as the subtleties of the people involved. It’s a clever conceit; having a mentor guiding you through these stories, and it opens the world up without it feeling too expository or didactic.
Talgard and the Conclusion to all Things
Talgard is something decidedly different from Gestalt and feels like a departure in tone from many of their other releases. It also feels like it may be landing at just the right time and as such it could catch the imagination of a whole new audience for the popular independent publisher. Gary can be rightfully proud of his creation, and I am very much looking forward to more stories with these characters. Maybe we can even hope for longer-form stories from Talgard’s future travels!
Talgard Written by Gary Proudley Illustrated by Jake Bartok, James Brouwer, Mitch Collins, Holly Fox, Scott Fraser, Katie Houghton-Ward, Marc Noble, Skye Ogden, Craig Phillips, Sarah Winifred Searle, Trev Wood Cover by Sacha Bryning Colours by Justin Randall Letters by Wolfgang Bylsma