- Comic: Chirault (1st page) by Ally Rom Colthoff (Varethane)
- Reviewer: Robert Howard
- Status: Ongoing; updates on Monday, Wednesday, Friday; 930 pages as of 29 December 2015
- Art style: Markers, Grayscale with occasional color
There is an old saying that authors need to hook readers with the story’s first sentence or risk losing the audience entirely. This is a bit of an oversimplification, especially as the majority of readers will stumble across a comic after it had been updating for some time. As such, many webcartoonists will go for a slow build rather than rely on that first page to hook the reader. With Chirault, cartoonist Ally Rom Colthoff (Varethane) has gone for a more cinematic feel to help introduce the story’s underlying plot. This may not have been the best choice, however, as readers who do jump to the prologue end up going from a dozen pages with magitek, shielded cities, and efforts to deal with overcrowding before plunging into the middle of a forest with a young tailed girl getting shrunk to the size of a mouse.
At its core, Chirault is an epic fantasy. As such it follows many traditional tropes found in the genre. The prologue’s glimpse at the larger world and story before shifting to the stories of the dual protagonists, Kiran and Teeko, is part of that tropic journey and as the comic develops readers are introduced to their stories, their backgrounds, and what drives and motivates them. Intermingled in that, is a periodic return to the larger plot until the two are woven together. Needless to say this isn’t a fast process; Chirault has been updating for eight years and while it appears to be approaching a final climax, the archives do contain over 900 pages of story updates.
Chirault has one of the more interesting settings I’ve come across in the 15 years I’ve been reading comics; instead of the traditional fantasy races drawn from Tolkien and adapted by fantasy roleplaying, the pointy-eared inhabitants of this world are in fact human. Our main protagonists, Teeko and Kiran, are demons – nonhumans who have nominally been accepted into human society, though both have been discriminated against… Kiran more so than Teeko, though how much of Teeko avoiding the ire of various people is due to her diminutive size remains to be seen.
The “monsters” of this world aren’t the typical fantasy fodder; we have tree spirits (both benign and hostile), strange gangrel monsters that hunt humans (and who Kiran in turn hunts as part of his job), mind-control crabs, and other stranger things as well. Humanity mostly lives in small villages, often hidden in the ever-present forests, and several cities allowed in some ancient treaty with the forest spirits. Naturally, it’s humanity’s efforts to circumvent this ancient treaty behind the meta-plot… and eventually the readers – and cast – learn that the experiment which ends up driving the story has its roots many years earlier.
The initial 100 pages of the comic have a leisurely pace with no actual links between the larger plot and the story of Kiran and Teeko. Seeds are planted with the theft of the artifact the larger story sprouts from, but much of Kiran’s initial story is of his job as a monster-slayer, while we watch Teeko come to terms both with her new minuscule size and her efforts to befriend Kiran. The latter takes time as Kiran seems very much the outsider used to being alone, and it takes a lot of time before he overcomes this tendency.
While Kiran is nominally the primary “hero” of the story, I’ve found that Teeko tends to fill the protagonist role. My impression of Kiran is someone who reacts to things, while Teeko is the character who seeks to learn more and who helps draw Kiran out of his shell. She is also quite impetuous which naturally enough gets her in trouble – but if she needs bailing out from time to time, it’s because of her size rather than being a girl. This includes her learning magic as her non-human nature can make the magic less stable.
As the story commences, Kiran and Teeko are joined by three others; a mage named Astrid, a village warrior named Bethan, and a hanger-on named Aaron. Unfortunately, Aaron never really stood out for me; I’m not sure if that’s because Aaron was an everyman or if it was because nothing that interesting happened to him, unlike Bethan who fought to protect her and Aaron’s village and who had paid a price for her bravery a couple of times. And as for Astrid, a combination of his smugness, which rubs Kiran the wrong way, and his connections with the greater plot help him to become a more integral part of the story.
Other secondary characters help round out the story, both in expanding on the larger plot and in developing the word. Of these, Heryan is one of the more significant characters who helps drive the artifact storyline, while her comrade Rune’s links to Astrid is responsible for bringing Kiran and Teeko – and Astrid, for that matter – into the larger plot. Likewise, the story’s antagonists appear to have some link to Kiran himself and it seems likely their role in Kiran’s mysterious pass will come to light as the story starts to wind up toward a climax.
As with most long-run comics, Chirault’s artwork has improved over time. The seven-page prologue actually uses newer art, and then goes back to older art. The comic has been collected into print collections which include updated artwork and likely revamped lettering. Unfortunately, some of the lettering in the older art leaves much to be desired and it can prove difficult reading the comic. After the first 200 or so pages, the dialogue tends to stabilize as the cartoonist improved his hand-lettering technique.
Varethane actually goes over his artistic method at the bottom of the About page, with the process including a brush pen to ink his pencils and markers for the greyscale. The dialogue itself tends to change according to what can fit in the speech bubbles and during the drawing process, which has resulted in changes to the script itself. While I’d not recommend the approach to new cartoonists, it does provide the cartoonist with a more organic flow to the strip as changes come organically; no doubt the larger plot itself has remained unchanged.
For the most part, the art works nicely with the story. There is an organic feel to the art and while at times the lines related to tree spirits and the like can get confusing, the line art and greyscale tends to work nicely. Color work appears in several places; primarily the colors are used in cover pages for each new chapter, though a short story on Astrid’s origins is fully colored with markers.
Chirault’s website is fairly easy to navigate, and includes a top bar with links to a basic Cast page with a thumbnail of the characters that includes a hyperlink to their first appearance, their names (with one exception), and a one-line tongue-in-cheek comment on the character. Other links include an Archive page, various social media pages including Twitter and Tumblr, and a store where readers can purchase either a print copy of the comic, or a PDF with the newer art.
While the comic takes its time in developing the larger plot, a combination of an organic art style which stands out from most of its contemporaries, a world unlike pretty much any fantasy comic I’ve come across to date, and enjoyable characters helps make this comic an enjoyable read. Despite the problems with lettering some of the earlier comics suffered from, on the whole this has been on my reading list for years now and hasn’t disappointed. I definitely recommend it, especially for people interested in something that isn’t just more of the same old same old.
- A unique and interesting setting
- Fairly concise story without dangling plotlines
- Problems with lettering of early comics
- The art can be confusing at times
- Story: ★★★★☆
- Artwork: ★★★☆☆
- Website: ★★★
- Overall: ★★★½☆
* Note that our rating system is much more strict than most and 4 stars are already reserved for comics which are significantly above the average in the specific regard.
* Note that the overall rating is not the average of the other three ratings, but represents the overall impression of the comic.