Publisher: IDW Publishing (Top Shelf Imprint)
Writer/Artist: Guilherme Petreca
Release Date: 3rd April 2019
In the opening pages of Ye, Guilherme Petreca’s debut book through IDW’s Top Shelf impring, we’re introduced to the notion of the Colorless King; a cruel and fearsome being who is the root of all suffering. Sickness, rage, fear, war, tragedy and all that is vile is at the hands of the Colorless King. But as the steeped-in-darkness opening pages close to begin the tale of Ye, we’re told that “We are all capable of being a Colorless King.”
This is not only an arresting premise for a story which feels right at home alongside the works of Diana Wynne Jones and other incredible European fantasy comics, but is also something a mission statement. That final opening sentence confirms that what we’re about to read isn’t just about a quest to defeat evil with swords and magic, but a journey that will speak to defeating something much more human and relatable.
As our story begins in a small, cozy European village. We meet Ye, a young man named after the only syllable he has ever been able to produce. But when a crow, born from magic, on Ye’s house, it can only mean one thing; the Colorless King has blown on Ye’s soul and left its mark. Fearing for the worst, he is sent on a journey to find a witch named Miranda to help him fight the King and remove the mark.
The journey that begins from there sees Ye never far from death or new friends as he is thrown from pirate ships to frozen wastelands in the search of the Witch. Everything is more than it seems, and everyone he meets and every step he takes is important in one of the most beautiful journeys of adventure and self-discovery I’ve read in a long time.
While I’ve never heard of or read any of Petreca’s other works, it’s clear that they’re a certified master of their craft, as every single part of this book is meticulously forged and fitted together to create a captivating and breath-taking tale. And while my comparison to the works of Diana Wynne Jones is apt in the ways fans of her work can find comfort in the way this story feels, the world of Ye (and well, every part of this book really) feels incomparable to anything else out there.
Ye’s world seems to almost be ‘Post-Magic’, as the Witch Miranda and the Colorless King come across as remnants of a world that is gone but not forgotten. What this creates is a world that mixes the ordinary, extraordinary, and everything in between. From almost 1800s styled country villages, to railroad-side industrial towns, to a “Sea of Lost Dreams” and Circus tents in frozen mountains, to the Colorless King’s own domain and beyond. This variety is a great way to keep the book fresh and exciting, with every scenario leading us somewhere totally unique and unexpected, but these environments also act as a tool to reflect the emotion of each scene.
As a protagonist, Ye is a curious-yet-brilliant focal point for a story of this nature. With his humble village origins and lack of voice, Ye is a simple character by design. Kind-hearted but timid, reserved and unknowing to the hardships outside his home. His strength as a written character comes from how much he grows over the course of the book, facing the hardships and persevering, learning and maturing from each of these encounters and connections.
These hardships all come in the form of the other characters Ye meets and learns from, characters who may be the real heart of the book. From the stalwart to the cruel to the dedicated to those who just want to survive (not to mention those that can be all of these things), these are the people that teach Ye and show him how to gain the courage to fight the King. Each of them are given ample time to shine, and their stories will stick with you just as much as Ye’s own story by the time the book closes.
However, if there is one star that shines brighter than all the rest here, it is Petreca’s artwork. From the very first page I knew this was like nothing else I’d ever seen. With every page showing a powerful control of colour and composition that makes this book the emotional, atmospheric experience it is. Each page is gorgeously pencilled to emotive perfection, with the visible scratchiness of the pencils used to give off powerful shadows and add layers of age and weariness to the characters. Every character looks every as alive as they are written, and the world itself takes on a character of its own through the linework that so boldly accentuates everything we see.
But this book’s real beauty and staying power comes through that unrivalled use of panelling, composition and colour to create an utterly evocative experience. It’s no surprise a book around a foe named the Colorless King deals most strikingly with black and white. From scratched shadows to pages completely devoid of colour to the claustrophobic use of it as a border, pitch-blackness is an incredibly well utilised framing device to both highlight and shroud the emotional battle and danger Ye constantly finds himself faced with. What’s more, the way these shadows contrast both with the use of white borders and conventional panelling brings a whole new layer of expression and individuality to the vivid emotional journey of Ye. No two pages look the same, read the same or can be followed the same.
2017 and 2018 have been some fantastic years for graphic novels. First Second, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Image and small press creators are pumping out some of the most distinctive and affecting stories at a consistently high quality. And yet, Ye still feels like something so new, so captivating, so human and so utterly resonate, all wrapped up in an incredible blanket of European Fantasy that is defiant in its ability to stun. A book that amazes, morphs and shines on every new page. A book that just makes me want to throw a copy at everyone I know and take to the streets to tell everyone I don’t.
Ye is gorgeous in every sense of the word. A story perfectly balanced with humour, humanity and deftness. Artwork so stunningly sculpted by a master of composition and colour, with characters so alive and a world so expansive in both reality and fantasy. I picked up Ye on a whim, by virtue of a curious title alone, but am I glad I did. Because now I can safely say this is one of the most brilliant comics of this calibre I’ve ever read, and deserves a spot on any reader’s shelf.
The writer of this piece was: Connor Stephens
Connor Tweets from @diddlesMVP