Marco Aidala, Vanessa Gillings, Kelly McClellan, Konstantin Pogorelov, Brinson Thieme and Jason Thompson – artists
Vanessa Gillings, Kelly McClellan, Chloe Dalquist, and Liz Conley – colorists
$29.99 / 232 pages
Review by Joe Palmer
The Legend of Bold Riley is a recounting of a swashbuckling hero written by Leia Weathington and drawn by she and a quintet of artists. Bold Riley appears to have started as a webcomic and transitioned to a handful of single issues and are presented here as a graphic novel published by Northwest Press. In a May interview with the Portland, OR Examiner, Weathington says she was inspired by stories such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf. That may sound a bit…archaic to some of you. Even while I was reading Bold Riley and before I searched around to learn a bit about Weathington her inspiration was clear to me. Gilgamesh is one of our oldest, extant pieces of literature and if it sounds archaic so in reality she is returning to the original source material. If you are even the least bit familiar with Joseph Campbell’s works you will reognize that The Legend of Bold Riley is the story of an individual unknowingly setting out on the path of the Hero’s Journey. However, there is one difference. Weathington takes the classical hero and makes her a young woman. This gender swapping decision alone would not necessarily make for a good or memorable story. The idea could easily fail if this were all Weathington was interested in doing. Thankfully, her intent was to make Bold Riley a three dimensional character for which she could create exciting and engaging stories.
When Riley is introduced we see that she is the youngest of three children and the only girl born to the benevolent King Shyrmana and Queen Penchabii who rule the kingdom of Prakkalore. Quite clear in the beginning are the aesthetic choices to model the setting and people after romantic notions of an India in bygone days or at the outmost Bali with its Hindu influences. The princes Satanii and Raka and princess Rilavashana are taught by the best tutors to help to prepare them for the day they will rule Prakkalore. Rilavashana is given the nick name Riley by the red-haired, fair-skinned history teacher because his tongue repeatedly trips over her name. They lead a comfortable and sheltered life though not as sheltered as a life as young Siddhartha Gautama purportedly had thanks to the over protectiveness of his father. All is well and good throughout the land, but Riley becomes increasingly wistful and is consumed with wanderlust and thoughts of adventure by the time of her sixteenth birthday. Her manner becomes more daring and audacious until one day she confides her desires to her father who wisely counsels her to think on matters. After seven days and nights, Riley follows her heart and secretly sets off on horseback traveling into unknown territory and an uncertain future.
And this is where the story gets really good! There is much derring do and peril, humor and romance, lovable roguishness, demons and gods, and compassion, love, heartbreak, anger and acceptance. In The Blue God, Weathington balances the wit and cunning Riley needs to defend herself against a band of Morishaksa creatures intent on feasting on a herd of goats she has been tricked into watching with humor as the punch line to the nature of goats. In The Serpent in the Belly adventure Riley encounters a peasant woman mourning the unknown fate of her once loving husband. An encounter with a second woman in a village yields a strikingly similar story that brings her straight to the palace of neighboring Cochenn and an opportunity to grapple with a demon inhabiting the missing husband. The following story (The Strange Bath) stands in stark contrast to the serious mood of this chapter. In the opposite direction of Cochenn lives a small tribe of friendly, fun loving practical jokers. There’s no two ways about it! Even their ghosts love in before fully departing the world. Kudos to Weathington for coming up with a unique idea to have Riley run around totally naked for an extended scene. Riley chances upon a talking bird (if Toucan Sam had a mythical, ancestral counterpart?) and ignoring its advice to not seek shelter from a rain deluge in The Wicked Temple. Alas, no good ever happens in temples that look abandoned, because they rarely are just that. And this one has such beautiful women with bare breasts. Why do they want to kill the dashing Riley? How fortunate she listened to the talking bird and accepted its gift of a feather! You never know when you’ll need a talking bird to rescue you! The Golden Trumpet Tree tells the bittersweet romance between Riley and Ghemuen who serves as the guardian of a forest and her people. Their love is not meant to be, not due to shame – there are no prohibitions on whom to love in Riley’s fictional world – but because of an irrevocable promise Ghemuen made long before even the hint of a lover such as Riley could be imagined. The depths of Riley’s love for Ghemuen and anguish at her plight are beautiful and raw and heartbreaking. At the outset Riley is naive, curious and exuberant. By the close she has loved her first, great love and had her heart rent in two by something bigger than she. Wisely not bringing her hero full circle, Weathington leaves the reader wanting more.
Weathington has a flair for crafting her speech to reflect a time and place not our own that sounds quite natural for her characters without resorting to Middle English with its “thee’s” and “thou’s” and “forsooth’s”. As I noted above, the cultures in Weathington’s world have no issues with sexuality. Proclomations aren’t shouted while riding on horseback. Riley is simply a princess on an adventure and she loves women. Kudos to Weathington for making achieving an organic feeling.
A number of artists involved in bringing Riley to life. Weathington started writing and drawing Riley, but brought others to the project so she could concentrate on writing. there is a sense of cohesion throughout, even if the stories were presented individually. The costuming and locales reinforce the folktales sensibility that came up for me while reading the book. Kelly McClellan shows a Riley who is a bit older, still young, mind you, but it gives a subtle sense of time progression during her journey, and apprpriately so with hers being the closing piece. Coloring throughout the book is beautiful and complements each artist’s style and recalls for me the decorative nature of color, though not its riotous explosion, in Indian art. The exception here is the coloring by Konstantin Pogorelov and Liz Conley in The Wicked Temple. To apply color flatly to Pogorelov’s drawings would have overwhelmed the energetic linework and inky blacks. The solution to use color loosely in what resembles “wet on wet” watercolor technique was ideal. It reminds of samples of illustration work that as a kid I looked at in magazines at my grandparents’ house, and are occasionally posted on Leif Peng’s blog. These images are more static but will give you an idea.
Bold Riley is what a Disney Princess story could be if the company had the courage and interest (and subltety) to push beyond the outer edges of the heteronormative envelope to create an
adventure featuring a young, lesbian swashbuckling hero. Visit Northwest Press for a preview and to order.