Ekho v1: “New York”
In the middle of the flight, Fourmille is accosted by a strange creature who asks her if she accepts the inheritance of an aunt who disappeared 20 years ago. And after lightning strikes the 747, it is on a dragon’s back that she lands in a very different New York! Deep in a fantastic Manhattan, Fourmille discovers a completely offbeat world, populated by odd creatures, and where there is no electricity…
…and there may not be any way out!
“Ekho” is a lushly drawn album that works very hard to set up this parallel earth to our own. There’s one bit of business that the Comixology summary above leaves out that’s very important. That is, Fourmille becomes her dead aunt when she changes her hair style to match. It’s… very weird.
It’s the device necessary to drive the volume’s theoretical main plot, but it feels very shoe-horned in. The exploration of the new world and their attempts to figure out how it all works is much more interesting and important.
When I say “they,” I mean Fourmille and Yuri. He’s the gentleman who was sitting next to her on that plane and got sucked into the new world along with her, much to everyone’s surprise. He has a slightly rougher time of it in the new world.
“Ekho” is an entertaining story from writer Christophe (“Ythaq”) Arleston with beautiful art by Alessandro Barbucci, the kind you could find yourself staring deeply into every panel of. There’s one little problem with some of the material, but we’ll get to that in just a bit…
It’s a bit thin, to tell you the truth. There’s obviously an overall mythology to the series Arleston is working towards that we’ll likely get bits and pieces of as the series develops, but the basic plot is a little clunky.
The two leads of the series, Fourmille and Yuri, aren’t necessarily the kind of people you want to root for. There’s nothing terribly endearing about them in this first volume. There’s a Will They/Won’t They thing that also feels shoe-horned in, but individually they do a bit of whining and moaning about their new fates, until they take some action all of a sudden in the third act.
This is the first volume of a series, so I’m willing to wait that out just a bit. The characters may still be in development at this point, and their rough edges may yet be sanded down.
Fourmille’s one unique ability is, as I mentioned above, the ability to channel the dead by assuming their hairdo. That at least partially explains the amazing amount of hair on top of her head. It’s all set-up for future plots.
But it feels like a device meant to hammer a plot into shape, and less like anything that makes any sense. It’s clunky, as far as plot devices go.
This first volume is about the two of them finding their way in the new world, learning how the city works and what the squirrel’s people are doing with them.
Oh, have I not mentioned the squirrels? They’re the ones who control Ekho, and keep its energies balanced. They brought Fourmille to this new world, and they have lots of secrets of their own, not to mention some impressive offices and equipment.
It appears that we get some answers to the question of just what it is they do in volume 5.
Barbucci’s art is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The amount of detail, energy, creativity, and imagination that he puts into every panel is a wonder to behold. With this series being set on an alternate earth where dragons are airplanes and squirrels run a secret society, he’s given plenty of opportunity to let his stuff shine. And that he does.
His human characters are just as animated as his anthropomorphic animals, and his animals are just as believable as the humans.
When he gets the chance to pull the camera back and establish a setting, the results are epic. From crowded city skylines to underground train systems and dragons in flight, there’s nothing Barbucci does in this comic book that doesn’t look like the work of a team of Disney animators tediously iterating on concepts for years before putting them on screen.
You could buy this book in French and still enjoy it by just looking at the pictures. For me, the art is that beautiful.
The possible problem is that Barbucci packs a lot onto every page. The amount of detail is impressive, and the book is filled with lots of medium and wide shots. Backgrounds are detailed and numerous. Textures are given to everything. Each page is so busy that I find myself zooming in on most panels to appreciate everything that’s going on in them. (I even used Guided View as a test at one point, because this feels like the rare case where it makes sense.)
The world feels completely “real” and “normal” thanks to Barbucci’s tight artwork. He takes no shortcuts.
The Elephant In the Room
You might have been able to tell some of this from the cover, but let me spell it out.
If you’ve seen his previous work, “Sky Dolls,” you also know what Barbucci likes to draw — buxom women with exaggerated features. Furmille looks like a pouty big haired men’s magazine star. She’s also not the strongest character in the world in this first volume.
That’s a combination that might end any discussion of this book for some.
There’s also a scene set in a strip club, and one of the most gratuitous cuts to dancers in such an establishment as I’ve ever seen in any form of media. They’re tamer than “Sin City” scenes, don’t get me wrong, but this is a book that aims at an older demographic and so feels the need to include that stuff.
This book is rated 17, so they’re not trying to hide it from you. It’s not disgusting and it’s not pornographic, and it’s not the main focal point of the book. But it is there.
There’s only one nipple shown, but otherwise no nudity, but plenty of suggestiveness and some material that might trigger some. (A couple of feels are copped.)
If you don’t hate Frank Cho’s work, I think you’ll be OK with it all, though. It’s just enough of an issue that it deserves a mention up front.
Many French comics use the same bad lettering. The crossbar “I” shows up in too many places. The font, itself, looks sterile and cold, like a machine created it with artificial intelligence, instead of the creative eye of a fontographer.
The font used in “Ekho” has life to it. It has character. It’s not sterile or perfect. I love the way the crossbar on top of a “T” will fly over the “h” next to it. The “U” has a triangular shape. The “E” pokes up and to the right.
Despite all of this, it’s easily readable. You can’t trip over it. It might be a little too small, but that’s the style of the comic, overall, I think. Barbucci’s art is all about drawing full figures in every panel, cramped into whatever space happens to be there, with lots of background details. You don’t want the lettering covering up too much of that. So it stays small. I’d love to see this book in print, just to see if the words look any bigger than in my digital copy.
Credit for the translation and lettering in this book goes to Studio Charon, based in France.
Yes, you might roll your eyes at the lead character’s proportions and the relatively brief stripper club sequence, but the good FAR outweighs the bad on this. The art is beautiful. The backgrounds pull you right in. And I should mention the colorist, Nolwenn Lobreton, because those work magnificently with this art.
There’s definitely room for improvement, but now that the “origin story” or “pilot episode” is done, I look forward to seeing where else Arleston and Barbucci take us.
Oh, and more squirrels! Can’t get enough of them!
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #5 of 100 for 2017.)
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