Reviews of Rice Boy (2006) and related work

Rice Boy (2006)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

For three thousand years, the Searchers have selected one Fulfiller after another to restore Overside. All of these choices were wrong.

Though a casual amateur webcomic, this is good weird non-human fantasy, a lot more surreal and creative than Bone (1991) but ultimately based on the same formula and fusion of the traditional cartoon and the epic. The Dimmons of Rice Boy resemble Smith’s rat creatures. Golgo, named after Golgo 13 (1968) without the author’s knowledge, looks more like a creature out of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982) or The Journey of Shuna (1983). It reminds me of “Jabberwocky” (1871), a fantasy adventure heightened by a deliberately alien quality.

References here: Adventure Time (2010).

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Order of Tales (2008)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

A librarian of sorts opposes the dark lord, but people keep telling him he’s not the hero.

Drawn in black and white, with a more human-like protagonist—though still no humans—and with less of Rice Boy’s whimsical asides, but with similar pacing. T-O-E’s eye no longer shows pre-WW2 movie stills. The antagonists’ goons are even more like Smith’s rat creatures than the Dimmons. Clear signs of growing artistic maturity, but a more traditional epic fantasy in all respects.

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“Plague Gods” (2009/2019)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

This comic was abandoned by its creator. This review refers to the first 18 pages, including a “cover”, which is all that exists as of 2020. Posting it to Patreon in 2019, Dahm implied he had revised the art, filling out the shadows to make the images intelligible.

The plague isn’t touching a particular person, perhaps because he knows which god brought it.

Black and white, it’s a bit too morose to match Lord Dunsany; it’s more like Clark Ashton Smith or H. P. Lovecraft in their darkly cartoonish moments. Like Rice Boy it’s set on Overside, according to a 2019-11-22 Patreon post; this would otherwise not be apparent as even Dahm had forgotten which continent the city is on. The exposition is a little clunky, but I think it would have been good if finished.

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“The Tethered Isle” (2009)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

T-O-E and Calabash seek Jord.

Dreamlike weird fantasy.

References here: Vattu: The Sword & the Sacrament (2016).

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“Waiting in Surya” (2009)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

A darkly comic trifle, neatly illustrating Calabash and T-O-E’s personalities.

References here: “The Tusks of Wusterim” (2010).

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Vattu: The Name & the Mark (2010/2013)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

This review refers to the first printed volume, published in 2013, collecting a comic that had been running online since July 2010.

A girl is born to a tiny tribe in the grasslands by the great river Ata. They are the ones who mark their tall grey foreheads in white: A unique sign for each one. They recognize no individual parents and live in the cyclical time of hunters and gatherers, but their torgut prey is running out. An empire of square towers, godhood and linear time extends its hand.

I first read the Vattu series as it was coming out, until in 2017 I got to page 846, which is about midway through the third volume. The slow trickle of individual pages was too frustrating. Even so, long before the fourth and final volume was complete, I read the series again, from the start, in book form. I still couldn’t quite get over a localized cognitive defect that makes me see the nostrils of Fluters as the corners of mouths in Umino Chica’s comics.

Vattu is an excellent non-human fantasy, particularly for younger readers. Most of the central characters—even in later volumes—are children. There’s a little of Dahm’s surrealism from earlier entries, but Vattu stands alone and is more script-driven. The Searchers do not appear.

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‣‣ Vattu: The Sword & the Sacrament (2016)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Velas, Junti and the Sisterhood.

This volume introduces the main surrealist plot element, a plant-based blue pigment having negative weight and producing visions, as seen in “The Tethered Isle” (2009). In Dahm’s vivid, simplistic style, the city of Sahta looks like a model of an ancient Roman town, not quite to scale.

Though it is populated by dog-like humanoids and there are—thankfully—still no people or D&D races, Sahta obviously corresponds to Rome. This results in a further correspondence with Dahm’s Christian faith that is surprisingly subtle, and not at all annoying. The series is much more about hierarchy and imperialism, and confronts these topics in the manner of Ursula K. Le Guin, with more gravity than the tiny prototype in “The Tusks of Wusterim” (2010).

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‣‣ Vattu: The Tower & the Shadow (2018)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

Arrius and Bakrah.

In this volume, Kadarsh the Grish cries tears of sadness, which is telling. The Grish resemble salamanders, but have oddly rounded teeth, as most everything is rounded in this world, including the swords! Real salamanders don’t cry from sadness. As much as I like Dahm’s decision to go without humans, the people of Vattu are never much more than visually interesting stand-ins for humans. This is especially true for Bakrah. I hear his lines in my head in the late, great Phil Hartman’s voice of Fat Tony, and I love Bakrah, but his modern-looking shirt corresponds to T-O-E’s modern-looking human clothing, stretching the premises.

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“The Jewel of Brambool” (2010)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

Huf (a.k.a. Huff) tells the story of how he obtained a jewel.

Huf is the little person from chapter 32 of Rice Boy who looks like the villain from Day of the Tentacle (1993). Since he does not have the jewel in Rice Boy, it stands to reason that this might be a sequel or interquel, but it’s not clear. This is a peripheral comic trifle, parodying stories like “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” (1931) with a monster similar to a life-size velvet worm.

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“The Tusks of Wusterim” (2010)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

The back story of Rice Boy’s frog people, in relation to the people of the Old Empire of Wusterim, as seen in “Waiting in Surya” (2009).

References here: Vattu: The Sword & the Sacrament (2016).

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“Settling Down” (2011)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

Calabash the Searcher takes a vacation in the capital of a nation long since in decline.

An immediate prequel to Rice Boy, on the scale of days, unlike the other prequels, which range in their prequelness up to what looks like millennia.

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“Rice Boy Sketchbook” (2016)

Evan Dahm (artist).

Read in 2020.

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“The Thinker” (2011/2020)

Evan Dahm (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

The attendant of a mysterious desert outpost finds T-O-E, who remembers how the place used to be a forest.

A charming science fantasy about ecocide. Described as “drawn in 2011, finished 2020”; T-O-E’s eye is back to showing stills, but they’re less iconic.

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