Telemachus v1 cover detail by Kenny Ruiz
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Telemachus v1: “In Search of Ulysses” is Lots of Fun

This book has three strikes going against it for me from the start.

It’s based on Greek Mythology. I know that stuff at a very superficial level, and get easily confused once all the real Greek names start getting thrown around.

It has a strong manga influence. I’m not a big manga guy. I like a few things all right, but there’s a whole generation of upcoming creators who grew up on manga, not North American or Franco-Belgian comics. They draw second generation manga lookalikes whereas I prefer people who are copies of copies of Franquin and Peyo.

Third, the book starts with pages of exposition to explain the large cast of characters, their background stories, and their relationships. I can’t keep that many characters straight in my mind. Sorry.

I should not, by any means, like this book.

Yet, I love it.

A very happy, smiling Telemachus

Everything above is superficial. And while one roadblock does start to seriously come into play at the end of this book, the rest of them are overcome by the sheer amount of charm, imagination, and energy on every page of this book.

I’m a convert. Let me tell you why.

Credits Without Speedlines

Telemachus v1 cover by Kenny Ruiz
Writer: Kid Toussaint
Artist: Kenny Ruiz
Colorist: Noiry
Letterer: Cromatik Ltd.
Translator: Matt Madden
Published by: Dupuis/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 58
Original Publication: 2018

What’s Going On

It’s four years after the Trojan War, and Ulysses still hasn’t returned home. He is presumed dead.

His head strong young son, Telemachus, doesn’t believe that, though. He concentrates on his training so that he may go out into the world someday and find his father. When an opening presents itself, he sneaks out to take his chance.

That scenario is set up pretty quickly. Kid Toussaint’s script gets right to the point of the story. This is to be a quest for a boy to find his father in a scary world that includes mesmerizing sirens, club-wielding cyclopses, wind-powered gods, and a whole lot more. Can he survive long enough to see if his father survived?

What Toussaint does to make this work is to establish the character of Telemachus early. He’s your typical headstrong boy who thinks he knows better, but really doesn’t. He’s skilled with throwing discs, but the rest of his education is somewhat lacking. He’s young and he doesn’t pay enough attention to his training.

Telemachus chases after Polycaste across the rooftops.

Now, add to that the charming Polycaste. Her father is ready to marry her off to maintain the peace between city states. She is not so keen on that. She wants to run away. And since Telemachus is wanting to run away in search of his father, the two are a natural pair, even if they don’t always get along.

I’m sure some cute little romantic thing will blossom here eventually, but this book keeps everything good natured and friendly. They’re young kids, busy with more important things in their lives.

Together, they will journey from set piece to set piece, trying to find Ulysses (or his final fate). Along the way, they’ll make new friends and begin growing out a team of headstrong kids with a side of youthful rebellion.

It’s Young Justice or Teen Titans for the ancient Greek set, just with a lot less angst.

Why It Works

First of all, I love the series “Frnk.” That, alone, should have been enough for me to not worry about the manga-influenced style of this series. I love that book in large part because of Brice Cossu’s art, which is stylistically similar to what Kenny Ruiz gives us here in “Telemachus.”

Second, the characters are just a lot of fun. Yes, Telemachus can be a petulant child and presumptuous idiot, but that tracks as normal behavior for boys his age. It gets magnified a bit in this fantasy setting.

Nobody in the book is perfect, either. Though Polycaste appears to have all the answers early on and sparks several of the actions that put the book into gear, she still has her blind spots and her own weak spots that cause actions that cause bigger problems, or that only reach the surface of an issue.

Telemachus meets the god of wind and gets thrown around

But there’s also a certain self-awareness to everyone. They do occasionally very silly things, but it’s always with a bit of a nod and a wink. It keeps things light-hearted and engaging, walking up to the line of silliness but never completely crossing it by hanging a light on it. There’s also a strong sense of comedic timing on the part of both Toussaint and Ruiz to pull that off.

Third, there’s a lot of imagination in this book. The characters are locked in a cave. They’re pushed by the winds though the sky to have an audience with a god. They land amidst a sea of broken boats, live on wind-swept mesas with stunning views, and are nearly swallowed up by an ocean that comes alive to attack them.

Every segment of this book has a new and tantalizing location to explore and soak in. I love all the little bits of world building. The book never has a chance to settle down and bore the reader.

Fourth, Kenny Ruiz’s art is dynamic, exciting, and energetic. The characters bounce across the page. They emote in extremes. There’s just a lot of stuff going on in every page. It happens in both the facial expressions and the body language. There are no boring parts.

Let’s talk about him some more:

The Art of Kenny Ruiz

Much like Cossu in “Frnk,” Ruiz employs a style that mixes the density of art and storytelling in the Franco-Belgian tradition along with the stylistic tics and manic energy of a certain style of manga. (Again, I’m not a manga-ka, so I’d have to let someone else give me the name of the style. But picture something aimed at a similar audience — teenage readers who like serialized anthologized stories. “One Piece,” maybe?)

He sticks to four tiers of panels, but he’ll make them slightly angled at times of great action. There are, of course, some speedlines to be had, though fairly limited in quantity.

Telemachus meets the cyclops

And the coloring by Noiry is clean, clear, and bright. The art isn’t being hidden by flashy coloring or an attempt to model or add sculpting in the colors. This is much more cel shaded than that.

It’s also strongly color keyed at specific times. The underground section is very brown; the sequence set in the skies is blue; the interior party scene is oranges to reflect the fire lighting the building.

The coloring also makes good use of special computerized effects — they never distract you. They only add to the experience in subtle ways, like with the soft edges of a blushing cheek, or a reflection in the water, for two examples.

Polycaste's father announces her engagement, before he ever mentions it to her.

The main characters have big eyes and bigger mouths that help to exaggerate their every feeling. Ruiz draws action in extremes, with super low and high angles leading to something almost like forced perspective in some of the more outlandish panels. He can lock the “camera” down and draw a scene, but a book like this lives more in the extreme.

Bird’s eye, worm’s eye, forced perspective, dutch angles, etc. Those are the places Ruiz lives in, and they work without tiring your eye out. He has a good eye for how far to push it without making you dizzy.

In a comics industry dominated by realism and every attempt to draw every shoe lace and every tread on every boot, a book like this is refreshing in the way it sets itself loose to throw everything in your face and never let up. Is some of it juvenile? Sure. When Polycaste sneaks into Telemachus’ room, there’s a cute sequence where he’s hiding behind a vase, a pillow, and a railing to hide his unmentionable parts.

Telemachus plays shy in front of Polycaste

But even that is kind of cute. It gives us a clue to his slightly shy character, when everything else we see of him is the headstrong action taker who seems to not worry about what he doesn’t know.

And it also adds a strong visual component to a scene that might just otherwise be two faces in the shadows whispering to each other. These are comics — the should have visual components. I remember Chuck Dixon talking about a comic he had written that was just a dialogue between Nightwing and Robin; he set the conversation on top of a moving train as part of a training sequence, just to give the reader something to visually find interest in.

This is comics. It should be a visual presentation. “Telemachus” hast that in spades.

The One Thing To Look Out For

There’s a complicated bit of politics going on in the book as it deals with different nation states and how they curry favor with each other — by marrying their leaders’ children off to each other in ways that will show a partnership between them. While the pairings are often played for superficial laughs — of course the daughters are all hotties and the betrothed boys are unibrowed cretins — the arrangements are made for different reasons.

By the end of the book, those reasons are causing interesting rifts between the leaders, and now you’re juggling three or four political forces and their unexpected relationships through marriage, or through no marriages. I need a scorecard to keep them all straight, both the cities and the children’s names.

I think I know what’s going on, but I need to keep track of which leader is from which country. I hope the second volume lays that out for us, maybe in a “Story So Far…” kind of segment. I could use the help.

But in a book with myriad characters that had seemingly focused on the adventures of just a couple of them, suddenly trying to keep this larger political movement straight in my mind was a bit of a mind bender. It is twisted enough to be interesting and lead to a whole lot of interesting dynamics in the story in the months ahead. I just hope I can keep the names straight.

The Lettering

Lettering sample from Telemachus v1

I don’t like this font. I know I’m saying that a lot lately, but it is an overused one. It feels like the kind of font used when a manga/anime-influenced comic needs a matching font. That heavy stroke on the top tapering to the thin base gets tiring fast.

For some reason, it looks like every font used by a certain generation of webcomics creator looking for a free font.

And, once again, the capital-I to start a word at the beginning of the sentence gets an errant crossbar-I. (It doesn’t happen in this example, but it’s in the book, like anytime Telemachus’ home of “Ithaca” is referenced.)

Recommended?

Yes! It’s a colorful, action-packed romp with lots of characters, humor, situations, and fun. Trust me, you won’t get completely lost in the ancient names and all their relationships. Not for the most part, anyway…

Buy It Now

Three volumes of “Telemachus” are available digitally today. You can start with the first volume from these three digital retailers:

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