“Elves, Volume 1”
Written by Jean-Luc Istin & Nicolas Jarry
Illustrated by Kyko Duarte & Gianluca Maconi
Colors by Diogo Saïto
Translated by Christina Cox-De Ravel
Published by Insight Comics
Back in 2014 I discovered a series of comic books dedicated to the legendary fantasy race of elves. I came upon it a year later than it began being released by Éditions Soleil, a French comic book publisher, but the main point is that I really loved the concept behind it. The Elves series features stories centered on five different races of elves and each tale is approached from the perspective of five different writers and five different artists, but all sharing the same fantasy world. This series concept was created by Jean-Luc Istin and Nicolas Jarry, who are also two of the writers involved in the project, Istin for the blue elves and Jarry for the sylvan elves, and they are joined by Olivier Péru (writing the white elves stories), Eric Corbeyran (the half-elves) and Mark Hadrien (the dark elves) and the artists Kyko Duarte (the blue elves), Gianluca Maconi (the sylvan elves), Stéphane Bileau (the white elves), Jean-Paul Bordier (the half-elves) and Ma Yi (the dark elves). There are 17 volumes already published and although some of them worked better than others for me, overall the Elves series is one I follow with great pleasure.
Earlier this month Insight Comics published the English edition of the first two volumes, joined together in a single book. Most of the volumes are already available in English, also from Éditions Soleil, but only in electronic format, so Insight Comics brings forth the paperback edition of the Elves series translated into English. I am quite happy to see “Elves, Volume 1” being released in English physical format, because I do believe comic books work better on paper rather than on a screen and I am delighted to see this particular series reaching a wider readership. Unfortunately, my delight is tempered a bit by the edition released by Insight Comics. Like I said, the Elves series follows the concept of 5 races, 5 writers, 5 artists, 1 world, but “Elves, Volume 1” while joining together the first two stories of the series, “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” and “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves”, does not acknowledge the creators of the second one. These are two separate story arcs, but on the cover and the spine of the book appear only the names of the writer Jean-Luc Istin, the artist Kyko Duarte and Diogo Saito (responsible for the colors), the team behind the first story, “The Crystal of the Blue Elves”. The same thing happens in the interior of the volume, at the title page of “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” the names of the writer, artist and colorist are rightfully highlighted, while at the title page of “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves” there is none present. The team behind the second story, Nicolas Jarry (story), Gilanuca Maconi (illustration) and Diogo Saito (colors), is only mentioned at the copyright segment, in a small line on the last page. They do appear also on the Amazon page of the volume, but I believe they deserved more than this and the way the book looks might lead to the belief that they have no contribution at all.
It is said that there are things getting lost in translation, but here something of the contrary happens. Not with the second story, “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves”, where everything looks much the same, but with the first, “The Crystal of the Blue Elves”. There is more text present in this volume than in the original French one. The story is told from the perspective of the main character, Lanawyn, but that isn’t the case in the initial publication. It is not entirely bad, some of the additional thoughts augment a bit more the world-building, the setting is a little richer thanks to them. However, since the story is a mystery at its core some of the additional text might reveal something of the plot unraveling here. And I am not saying it because I already knew the outcome, but because there are hints dropped here and there pointing toward a certain end. I honestly believe that leaving the panels without that extra content, as they are originally, works better for the satisfaction of the reader. And one more small matter, the fantasy world of the Elves comics has a map in the French editions, one that is missing in “Elves, Volume 1”. It is very much a personal issue, cartography being one of my soft spots, but I did find myself a little disappointed to not see it in this edition as well.
I am always thrilled to see a favorite series of fantasy stories, in the classical vein of the genre, from outside the English language being translated and although the presentation made by Insight Comics needs improvement I strongly believe that “Elves, Volume 1” being published in English too is a very good thing.
Here are my thoughts put on paper back in 2014 when I first read “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” and “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves”.
“The Crystal of the Blue Elves”
Written by Jean-Luc Istin
Illustrated by Kyko Duarte
Colors by Diogo Saïto
Returning from a journey the blue elf Lanawyn and her human friend Turin reach the city of Ennlya only to discover that all its inhabitants have been killed. The evidence they uncover points towards the human clan of Yrlanis as responsible for the atrocity. At the same time, in the island city of Elsémur, Vaalann, a young blue elf, appears to be the chosen of whom an old prophecy speaks of, the one who will control the powerful crystal of the blue elves.
Jean-Luc Istin’s “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” is not a groundbreaking story, most of its elements are very familiar. But if this tale doesn’t score points for originality, it still delivers an interesting and entertaining story. Two arcs go in parallel for the most part of the graphic novel, the criminal investigation in the Ennlya’s massacre and Vaalann’s attempt in fulfilling the blue elves’ old prophecy. The alternation between the two makes the intrigue work better, provides good suspense and allows the plot to accumulate enough mystery for the final twist to be effective. Blood runs hot within the story as well, there is plenty of action to be had, both on grander and smaller scales, some tense encounters and presence of mythical creatures that quicken the pace nicely and add something extra to the tale.
The characters are pleasant as well. “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” limited number of pages does not offer much space for the characters to develop properly, but they still manage to be lively to a certain extent. Little elements of their personalities make themselves present and the reader can guess a couple of other aspects regarding the characters from here. They are not what I could call memorable, but there is no regret in spending time in their company either.
The liveliness of the characters gains potency from the drawings of Kyko Duarte as well. His art is wonderful, the personalities and emotions well captured in all the characters, the scenes captivating and the landscapes and locations represented wonderfully. Kyko Duarte’s art complements successfully the story, it intensifies the enjoyment of this little graphic novel and provides some splendid frameworks. The minor details tend to get blurred into a mass within a couple of cadres, but that might be put on perfectionist demands rather than the fault of the artist. The overall result obtained by Kyko Duarte with each frame is nothing but satisfying.
I pursued my fascination with the elves to Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte’s comic book and I feel no disappointment in doing so. “The Crystal of the Blue Elves” is an epic fantasy that doesn’t defy the standards and does not challenge the reader, but it is a fun and relaxing story.
“The Honor of the Sylvan Elves’
Written by Nicolas Jarry
Illustrated by Gianluca Maconi
Colors by Diogo Saïto
A group of city-states driven only by mercantile intentions seek to seize the rights of customs held by the city of Eysine, but when they refuse to wield under their pressure an army of mercenary orcs hired by the group besieges the citadel. With no allies left to stand by the city of Eysine Llali, the king’s daughter, decides to seek help from the sylvan elves, retired within the forests. Hoping to awaken an ancient alliance between the humans and the sylvan elves Llali meets Yfass, an elven hunter, who leads her to his people.
The reader is thrown in the heart of the story from the first panels, with the entire plot revealed only several pages later and until the full scenario is grasped it takes a series of journeys back and forth in time. Due to this approach and the fact that healthy chunks of dialogue are necessary for the whole plot to be set into place makes the unraveling of the tale a slow process. The stage is occupied mainly by the game of politics, played by the involved parties until the extreme consequence of war is brought upon them. Economic interests, old treaties and internal affairs are all important pieces of this assembly. Assassins, magic and a couple of twists and turns are served on the side, adornments making the story more interesting.
However, as it was the case with the first volume of the Elves series the limited space accessible for these comic books turns “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves” into a story without depth. The mechanics behind the plot are restricted in order to be contained within the pages of the present volume. Even the small elements used in the support of the tale are barely scratched and every single aspect of the story is more left unexplored rather than surveyed to satisfactory needs. I could not shake the feeling that what could have been a captivating adventure becomes just a feeble endeavor because of the very tight space in which Nicolas Jarry has to develop a complete story.
Sadly, for me, neither the art of Gianluca Maconi works in favor of “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves”, most of the panels are unimpressive and there is little to be had out of the illustrations. Despite of a few of them being acceptable and showing promise, from my point of view most of them are rather schematically treated, with no panel being able to hold my gaze for longer than a couple of moments. I was left largely unimpressed by the final result, among the characters, settings and fighting scenes I could find only a few that I liked quite a bit, but I cannot honestly say that the art of “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves” is what I’d count among my preferences. Diogo Saïto’s coloring saves the situation a bit, it sets nicely the tone and atmosphere of the panels, but I am afraid it does too little to shake my general opinion of the comic book’s art.
Although part of a larger series and universe Nicolas Jarry and Gianluca Marconi’s comic book is independent from the first volume,“The Crystal of the Blue Elves”, as each new album of the Elves series is, but in comparison with that first entry I felt “The Honor of the Sylvan Elves” took a tumble for the worse. It is not a bad comic book, it provided me with a quick and fun reading, but no more than that and certainly without demanding another one.