I spent last weekend walking the hallowed halls of Denver Comic Con, which has grown to be the third largest comic con in America, and one of the youngest having just turned five years old. The place was packed with celebrities, artists, writers, cosplayers, and general fans. Over a hundred thousand of them, based on the estimates. Not to mention all the artists, writers and vendors.
Walking through the exhibit hall is one of my favorite things at any con; it’s a great way to find new books and comics to read, or art for your walls. And empty your wallet.
I found myself wandering through Artists Alley, and struck up a conversation with David Wrangham, author of Casting Bones, an independent graphic novel. His pitch? “A dark fantasy coming of age story about a young boy trapped by the wills of greater men.” Okay, that was enough to hook me into picking up the book.
As a young boy, Colin is used as payment to an Oracle in exchange for a reading. The man who trades Colin away wants power and influence and believes the Oracle can tell him how to get, or infuse him with, the ability to achieve everything he has ever desired. The Oracle himself is quite famous and used to have kings, queens, and emperors beating down his doorstep, until one of them died and he received the lion-share of the blame. Colin’s life changes very little at first, the Oracle using him as a workhorse much like the man before him – who may or may not have been Colin’s father. As the story continues, we see the relationship between the Oracle and Colin grow and mature even as Colin himself matures.
In what might be the most interesting aspect of this book, the art matures along with Colin. The book is presented in four sections, each illustrated by a different artist. Colin age 8 by Jordan Sgandurra, age 10-14 by Kevin Caron, age 18 by Nate Hamel, and age 23 by Lucas Schneider. With each progression, the art becomes denser, even grittier, mirroring Colin’s growth from adolescent to adult. The effect is remarkable and very well done, and shows off an interesting way to present a graphic story that you don’t often see, especially with mainstream publishers.
The world building is light and mostly in the form of name dropping—this King or that land far, far away—but we never really see any of it. The Oracle lives in a cave on an island, and nearly the entire story takes place there. At one point, Colin and the Oracle take a small rowboat out into the ocean to visit a trapped giant, and that is the extent of their travels. But it doesn’t detract from the story, which feels very personal and is focused on Colin’s relationship with the Oracle, and his journey towards adulthood.
I found the book to be refreshing even with the dark tone and currents running throughout. If you’re looking for something you won’t see from a mainstream comic company, consider picking up Casting Bones from David Wrangham.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.