Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best Comics of 2011: no. 13: The Lions of Valletta

It's risky to criticize the work of friends. Years ago, Katherine Collins reviewed my first comic. While she praised the writing, she called the art "alarmingly bad." After losing my ego, I took her criticisms to heart and improved my art.
Luckily, I have no such criticism for the thoughtful, playful, strong yet sensitive work of Ursula Murray Husted.
I've been following her work for several years, and had the pleasure of working with her for a couple summer sessions. Even if I'd never made her acquaintance, the joy and bravery in her work would shine through.
Making its debut at MIX 2011, The Lions of Valletta is a preview edition of Part I of Ursula's longer work, the adventures of a Maltese cat (that is, a cat whose home is on Malta).

As with Sailor Twain, the simple line is based in confidence and the  art is in service to the story.
The dialogue of the cats rings true and dominates. For the last 40 pages of the book, all the dialogue is between cats.
As it should be. We love cats.
Without spoilers, the plot concerns a young cat who is determined to find the Good Lady, the human with whom life will be full of food, comfort and love. As the cat's acquaintance notes, aren't we all?
Ursula uses the simple story as a framework to explore visual devices including pages based on tapestries and paintings, to wind through the streets. There's a sense of the real to this that shines.
This work is smart, involving and succeeds in being optimistic without being cloying. Ursula is toying with the idea of doing the work in color. While I like her bright yet controlled palette, I think the B & W is quite effective in this work. Here's an example from this volume, recently colored, from Ursula's blog.
Whatever her decision, I'm sure it will be the correct one. This is the fourth book I've read of Ursula's (fifth if you count her Kickstarter project, well worth checking out as well), and her work has yet to disappoint in any respect.
If you do follow up and pick up The Lions of Valletta,  do yourself a favor and read the smart, witty Notes section in the last four pages of the book. They include such gems as "the academic in me wants to write a bit about cats and nihilism here, but what's the use?"