Fantasy has been a niche genre in western comics, even thought some of the medium’s best stories have come from it. For every issue of Conan, Bone, or Elf Quest one could find in a longbox, they’d have to first fight through the hordes of superhero and horror comics that have gone on to flood the medium. However, with the rapid expansion of independent publishers, fantasy stories have exploded on the stands. This new wave of fantasy comics has trended very adult, with books like Vanish bathing the genre in 90’s edge or Quested taking genre tropes and stretching them into near-gonzo territories. Of this revolution, there is one major book that has married genre subversion and exciting violence with quiet, creative, and magical storytelling great for all ages.
That one book is Wes Craig’s Kaya.
The story follows Kaya and Prince Jin, siblings who’ve just managed to survive the fall of their kingdom to the hands of a brutal tyranny, the Atrian Empire. As they trek through hostile environments, barely making it by on their wits alone, they’re intercepted by a group of lizard riders, who take them under their wing as Kaya strives to deliver Jin to a safe harbor where he’s destined to discover the answer to reclaiming his home.
From the jump, the world of Kaya is unforgiving, strange, and engaging. The book’s narrative structure isn’t concerned with detail, leaving lore and history hazy. While the world is fantastical and filled with strange locales and creatures of myth, the story of Kaya isn’t about that world. We remain ever focused locked on the present, and the characters at hand. In that regard, the story is highly accessible, but the world doesn’t lack depth. Every page breathes with life, Craig communicating the world and its history through masterful visual and character storytelling. Culture is expressed through the emotional standards our characters hold themselves up to. Every scenario tackles themes and ideas such as heroism, sacrifice, and their fears crafting a world with depth without ever having to grind its pacing to halt.
The characters found in the series’ first volume are immediately intriguing, charismatic, and written with a lot of room to grow and change. While at first bat, Kaya and Jin are played within the framework of one note archetypes, the challenges they face while on the road bring out relatable and intricate emotional depth not seen at first glance. The same can be said for side characters like Zothan, who will undoubtedly stand out as a fan favorite. The simplicity at hand for both plot and characters lends itself well for all ages. For younger readers, the surface level story is highly entertaining and visually astounding. Older readers will not only find themselves having the same experience, but will also pick up on it’s deeper emotional messaging.
Kaya prides itself on the artistic talents of Wes Craig and Jason Wordie. The colors are soft and dynamic, utilizing carefully selected palettes and infusing them into scenes where they supply the most depth. Craig’s penciling style is diverse in its ability. He is able to make relatively cute and simple designs seem grounded within the world he’s crafted around his story. Every panel is a visual treat rife with the sweat, blood, and love of its painter.
This series has flown a bit under the radar, and for no good reason. Kaya is a masterful new fantasy series. With one trade paperback under its belt and the beginning of a new story arc with this week’s Kaya #7, there is no better time to jump in and check this book out.
Indie Spotlight: Wes Craig’s Kaya
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