Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.
Dragondove Volume 1: Young Liars by Les Valiant
Dragons wander the wasteland, seeking the souls of sinners, or so they say. A girl called Lucky doesn't believe that's the whole story, so she skips town, looking to wrangle herself some adventure, mystery, and a dragon of her own. What she finds is a world far richer than most could fathom, and romance she never knew her young heart needed.
Contains mild spoilers
Should you read the webcomic Dragondove? Yes. Its a fun little fantasy western with colourful art that you could read through in a couple of sittings, and it won't cost you a penny.
However, we're not here to talk about Dragondove as a free webcomic. We're here to look at it's merits as a body of work, specifically regarding it's first printed collection. Dragondove is worth your time, sure, but is it worth your money?
The story follow a talented, if naïve, young woman called Lucky, who gets pulled into a cross country quest with an unwilling tag along, the courier Primrose. Lucky originally has the simple task of returning an ancient relic, but her and Primrose both are quickly drawn into the conspiracies and schemes of competing forces, culminating in Lucky finally taming a dragon of her own.
As I mentioned, the story is a fantasy western, which is a setting that still feels genuinely untapped but is often tainted by being far too closely tied to the steampunk genre. I love Westerns, but the lone, outlaw life gets somewhat diminished the moment you start introducing airships and clockwork robots.
Fortunately Dragondove mostly eschews the trappings of steampunk. There are steam trains and the like, but the world's technology is pretty much grounded, instead it draws its fantastical elements from the dragons themselves, giving more depth than most fantasy stories that feature the scaled creatures normally do. Here Valiant draws inspiration from beasts of the old frontier, such as bison, stallions and grizzly bears, breathing new life into an otherwise overplayed mythological beast.
So anyway, the world building works exceedingly well, and the use of Western tropes lets the reader fill in the blanks themselves rather than being subjected to info-dumps, and the drip feed of information about the wider world helps fuel that lonesome feeling that's critical to an old west setting.
But a great setting is only as good as the characters you populate it with, and it's here where Dragondove really shines. It would have been easy to populate the story with stock characters, but Valiant decides to have a bit of fun with them instead. Lucky herself is a great lead, eager and enthusiastic in the face of a dangerous world, in that she's far too curious for her own good. She's more Herge's Tintin than Annie Oakley.
Primrose is a perfect foil for Lucky. She's a mysterious, charismatic courier with a past that hinted at being more important than it originally seems. It's Lucky's curiosity that keeps breaking past Primrose's aloof demeanour and shows her to be more human than she'd care to admit. The chemistry between the two of them is perfect, and it's genuinely distressing when it looks as though the two may part ways.
Likewise, the plot's focus on LGBTQ characters is presented with a supreme confidence.
If there's criticisms to be levelled at Dragondove then they are fairly minor. The art in some of the early sections is a little scrappy and it's more obvious on the printed page than it is on screen. Likewise, the first volume wraps itself up a little too quickly, making it feel less of a coherent whole.
But the art has a charm all of it's own, and Valiant's style itself truly feels one of a kind. The visual design of the costumes and the landscapes can only be described as sumptuous, and the action flows from page to page so easily that you'll be surprised you got through the book so quickly.
If all this sounds as though I'm going easy on Dragondove, you can trust me, I'm not. Most webcomics can take a while to get going. Many start with incomplete characters, or unsure of their own world. Les Valiant has built the foundations for the world that she's writing. Primrose and Lucky are complete characters from the get go. It's certainly one of the strongest openings I've seen from a first time strip.
So Dragondove is worth reading online, sure, but it's also damn well worth reading in print. Myself, I can't wait to re-read the next act in book form. It's a comic that puts a new spin on combining old genres, in both it's setting and it's characters, and Valiant's art is perfectly suited to the dusty plains populated with an oasis of colour.
Read it for free, pay for the print version, but either way I think you should give it a go.
Jack Harvey 2016. Dragondove (c) 2015 Les Valiant. Images used under Fair Use.