Valentine, Vol. 1 TPB
Written by Alex de Campi
Art by Christine Larsen
Colors by Christine Larsen w/ Tim Durning
Review by Joey Braccino
Valentine is a wonderful, weird, and wonderfully weird little comic. Between its densely historical Napoleonic War setting, its delectably sinister horror elements, its fascinating forays into fantasy, and its gorgeous artwork, Valentine may just be one of the most interesting and most unexpected books to come my way in recent weeks (since, of course, NEVSKY: A Hero of the People and all of its weirdness). Alex de Campi’s book weaves historical fiction, monster slash-em-up, and fantasy figures into a uniquely satisfying tapestry of violence and identity. Brilliant.
De Campi and collaborator Christine Larsen have been publishing Valentine on the interwebs since 2009 on their own websites and on Comixology. The digital format for the webcomics is similar to Marvel’s Infinity Comics format, in which narration boxes, word bubbles, and images transition into and onto one another as opposed to the traditional sequential form. Of course, none of that transition work is present in the trade paperback format, and a lot of the charm of reading Valentine on-line is lost in the switch to hard copy.
Still, de Campi and Larsen’s work is both textually and visually beautiful, even without the fancy fade-ins and star-sweeps (edit: there are no star sweeps in the webcomic). The action of the story takes place in Europe during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in the early 19th century. Aside from the setting, though, this story is anything but historical fiction. Our hero, Valentine, comes into possession of a mystic sword (think King Arthur) that opens a gateway to a mystical world of fantastic, mystic creatures. There are also dark, shape-shifting creatures—some of whom are passing as villainous Cossack militants—that want to gain access to this same mystic world. During the first few chapters, Valentine meets a beautiful sea-fairy-lady and is disappointed when she does not return to the mystic realm when he opens the gate. He opts to return to “Earth” to rescue her, and hilarity, as is often the case with these things, ensues.
There’s sword play and horse riding and fairies, mermaids, muskets, Dragons Wyverns, and hieroglyphics. There’s also an explanation for Stone Henge somewhere in the book. It’s all bizarre and beautiful and fantastic. De Campi imbues it all with the necessary ambiguity and irony to push it out of more traditional, more youth-oriented fantasy.
Christine Larsen’s artwork is absolutely stunning and, perhaps out of necessity, incredibly versatile. The dark, violent, grotesque scenes are like something out of a Poe poem or a Burton film; the bright, fantastic realm is reminiscent of Simonson’s classic Mighty Thor run. The colors are rich; the pencils/inks simple. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful book.
Valentine is a fascinating story, and the twist ending promises further development down the line. I would definitely say buy it if you’re the kind of person that prefers having a hard copy while reading. But I can’t help shake the feeling that spending the money on a trade paperback collection of an otherwise FREE digital webcomic might irk some readers. Still, whether its in TPB format or on-line, I definitely recommend the Ladies de Campi and Larsen’s Valentine!