Monstress: Awakening

Authors: Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Release: July 16, 2016
Series: Monstress
Genre: Steampunk | Horror | Dark Fantasy
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 192
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

I picked up a copy of Monstress because I liked the look of the artwork—a mixture of art-deco-influenced steampunk and manga—and I was intrigued by the storyline. It’s set in an alternate version of Asia in the 1900s where humans, animal-hybrids called Arcancs, and other magical races, inhabit the world. And Neil Gaiman calls it “a beautifully told story of magic and fear”. This was enough to convince me to give it a try.
The writer, Marjorie Liu, is the author of several comics, including X-23, Black Widow, Dark Wolverine, and Astonishing X-Men. She has been nominated for a GLADD Media Award for outstanding media images of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The illustrator, Sana Takeda, worked on X-23 and Ms. Marvel for Marvel Comics.

SPOILERS AHEAD
In a post-war society, Arcanics are hunted and sold into slavery by the Federation of Man. The Cumaea, powerful witch-like humans, dissect the Arcanics for a lillum, a substance that is only produced in their bodies. Maika Halfwolf, a 17 year old Arcanic, survived the war and found that she possessed a powerful magical ability that she does not understand—one that only comes out when she is in mortal danger. She chooses to sell herself into slavery in order to infiltrate a Cumean stronghold, free the other slaves, and gain a measure of revenge against the witches. While enacting her plan, Maika encounters fragments of an ancient and powerful mask that even the witches fear. The mask, it seems, is part of her history and her second contact with it radically changes her life. Now she is on the run from her own people as well as the Cumaea and does not know who to trust, or how to control the power growing inside of her.

Providing everything from the pencil sketches to the colors, Takeda’s artwork is stunning. The mise-en-scène on each page is an absolute marvel. A reader could get lost simply gazing at the intricate backgrounds. It provides a good grounding for the story world that Liu has created.

And the world is complicated. It would be easy to get lost in the story-threads. But Liu does not lead the readers through the story by the hand, although the lectures at the end of certain chapters by Professor Tam Tam, former First Record-Keeper of the Is’Hami Temple and Learned Contemporary of Namron BlackClaw, help to fill in any gaps. (Yes—he’s a magical talking kitty with four tails. Don’t let that throw you.) Instead there is a deliberate progression through scenes and situations that let the story (and the world) unfold slowly. This helps present the world more as a living mythology rather than a cardboard setting where events simply take place. There is a nuance to each scene that leads readers deeper into the mythology and creates a sense that this is a real place with a definite history.

Monstress has a unique structure, epic battles, and an intriguing storyline. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys steampunk, horror, and dark fantasy. Some of the artwork is graphic in nature, so I would recommend caution for the younger crowd. This comic is definitely meant for adults.

Introducing Sante Mazzei of Sìon, The first Italian Steampunk graphic novel

banner-sponsorizzazioneI’m as big a fan of Victorian England as the next person but one thing I’ve been really looking forward to since I started this blog is the chance to explore steampunk in different regions in the world. I’ve already delved into Japan with my Steampunk in Animation series and now it’s time for us to start exploring Italy with Sìon, the first steampunk graphic novel set in Naples, Italy. Sìon is currently funding on Indiegogo and has almost a month left to go. Sante Mazzei, one of the writers involved in Sìon, has taken the time to tell me all about the creative process that brought this masterpiece together. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about this magnificent graphic novel as much as I have!

Can you tell us a bit about Sion

Sìon is a graphic novel set in a version of Naples that started to take advantage of the Vesuvius volcano as a source of geothermal energy. The use of electricity has changed the citizen’s way of life introducing new ways to entertain, travel, communicate and even kill. Our main character, named Sìon, is a physically mute Jewish man, taken from his community, who begins to investigate on several terrifying creatures spotted in the underground of Naples
What part of the story came to you first?
The setting was one of  the main things we worked on. We added electricity to a particular historical context and calculated every possible outcome.  We imagined a huge “Corona” around the Vesuvius volcano, in order to harness its energetic potential. The plot, in order to work, would have needed a setting as extraordinary and believable as possible.
Why did you choose to crowdfund this project? 
Crowdfunding gives authors the chance to express as best as possible their potential. We decided to have full control over our story, without censorship or cuts, and the materials and packaging that our graphic novel will be made with. We will use a never before seen kind of paper for a comic book, the Dolce Vita, allowing the details and lighting of the electrically lit setting to shine through the page. All this is made possible by working with industry experts like the international-level typography: FonteGrafica as well as Favini, a world leader in supports for innovative graphics. We believe that crowdfunding is the best way to give life to an idea, thanks to the participation of all fans. In this case, the birth of the comic book is not only an achievement for the authors but for all those that have supported the project.
You’re also working on a limited edition Sion board game. What convinced you to take on this ambitious project? 
The board game represents the possibility for the reader to enter the world of Sìon and take part in his investigations. We love role playing games and board games with strong and convincing settings. We saw in our comic book a perfect setting for a role playing board game, that will allow you to “live” Naples as we imagined it, hunt during the night, conduct research in our refuges, while a deus ex machina moves the creatures and the fate of the city. We love the ideas that we developed regarding the game and we can’t wait to know what our supporters think of them!
Are you planning to create more graphic novels in the world of Sion
Our graphic novel will be a self concluding story. The investigations of Sìon will come to an end. But the universe we created is huge and we would love to explore other aspects of the story and allow the reader to discover all of its details. When structuring a multi-faceted setting as ours, having to tell only one aspects of it turns out to be too superficial for the readers. So yes, we will confront other aspects of the city and of the universe that we created.
Sion_3What drew you into steampunk in the first place? 
We ourselves are readers of comic books, as well as lovers of games, movies, music and all other art forms. Steampunk has found a way to live within all of these, with masterful stories and atmospheres of great beauty. Lately it has grown a lot as a genre and we will give our contribution deviating from the ground that other authors have already laid.
What do you think is the most interesting part of the steampunk genre/culture?
We feel it is the introduction of a technology so distant from the historical period presented. It allows us to calculate social, political and economical implications of a society. The screenwriter of Sìon is an Archeologist who is currently involved in anthropology. He has always been fascinated by the social transformations that followed discoveries and scientific applications. For this reason Sìon has been envisioned from the beginning as a steampunk work.
Sion is live on Indiegogo right now. How are you working to keep momentum going throughout your entire campaign? 
We are hard at work in consistently publishing new content and details on the perks that make up our campaign. Pictures are grafico-percentuali-immagine-2worth more than a thousand words and it is for this reason that we prioritize illustrations and characters, as well as their descriptions. We hope that you will love our project as much as we do