Earthsong (2004)

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The books I bought. 🙂 The colors are dark here, but they are brighter and better in real life.

Back when there was a bookstore called Borders, I remember browsing the shelves stacked with manga series after manga series. One day, I found this interesting comic called Earthsong, and I plucked it off the shelf to read. Wow, was it intriguing! Different mythological creatures (and humans) coming to a sanctuary planet to avoid a mysterious disease and a spectral monster intent on harvesting their magic powers!

Okay, technically, this story is fantasy – the artist has said as much – but to me, the Earthsong web comic is a mix of magical fantasy and science-fiction. Genres and mythologies aren’t the only thing this comic blends. Here’s a list of just some of the blends you’ll find:

1. The art style has a few influences. The very, very first pages of the comic were done fully in anime-style, similar to Sailor Moon. Crystal Yates, the author and artist, has admitted in her art book that she was a huge fan of Sailor Moon and did try to imitate the style. But, she also reveals that she really likes art nouveau, which is an elaborate style that utilizes natural poses and includes lots of detail in the figure and the clothes. Here’s another good example. You can tell when reading the comic that Yates was definitely influenced by manga – particularly in the second volume in the series, in the characters’ eyes and expressions in that first chapter – but she also keeps realistic forms and bodies for the characters, even the banshee and dragon! This style is unique, refreshing, and fun to view!

2. Different cultural fashions and styles appear throughout the series, especially for the character Nanashi and during the ball in the 5th volume. Nanashi is ethnically Japanese, but because of her backstory wears clothes inspired by Indian women’s attire. But the ball in the second-to-last chapter is the best example of merging fads. Each species has its own historical and cultural influence, from the Russian empire (the red guy), to the British regency, to “Material Girl.” And yet, no costume appears out of place, and they don’t clash when seen altogether! Even the every-day styles of their outfits fit well together, like this world would have Roman/Viking-inspired armor and elfish-fantasy apparel.

3. Earthsong strikes a wonderful balance between humor and gravitas. For those who have never heard of “gravitas,” it’s basically the serious aspect of a story – not to be confused with drama, which typically revolves around a conflict.

Anyway, Yates has a wicked sense of humor which shows through in the dialogue and in certain panels where characters make hilarious faces. (I just love that guy’s face as he chokes on his coffee!) Humor in a story makes it more entertaining to view, because 1) everybody likes to laugh, and 2) it makes everyone feel good. Humor also helps to lighten the mood after something serious has happened, like the climax of the comic series – which I’m not going to include a link to, because spoilers, but basically it’s the final battle which ends the war. The day after the battle, one character asks if she can slap another one of the characters. Trust me, it’s funnier in context. And gravitas is important because it adds a sense of realism and significance to the story: we understand the stakes not only of keeping the sanctuary planet alive and well, but each character has her or his own stakes or motivations for staying or fighting or for teasing another. We are grounded in this world and feel the people’s struggles and emotions by gravitas. Together, humor and gravitas flesh out this world and give it depth.

 

There are some other aspects of the web comic that I like, but don’t as neatly (or concisely) fall under the “blending of 2+ things” category. This story does include good versus evil, and the characters fall onto a gray scale of morality/reasons for fighting – well, for the most part. But something that is different is each character’s backstory. Everyone forgets their lives before coming to the Earthsong planet, except for the moment right before they left. For one of the characters, Tristram, he remembers being starved (and maybe tortured? It’s never made clear) and being forced to either kill another person so he can stay alive, or to kill himself. He ended up killing the person, but he carries that regret with him throughout the series. He is never completely good or completely evil, and even he isn’t sure of who he is. Amnesia + inner moral struggle = great character/story development!

And since everything in this series is alive – no, seriously, even the planets and stars are conscious beings – there is this thing called an “element.” It is the blood, so to say, of the planets and stars, and each element is unique. One planet, who is trying to invade and conquer Earthsong, infuses his element with the children of other planets; the children being the different species and people in the comic. For those infected, it can be painful when that planet “activates” his element in them. But for another character, Willow, the infecting element blends with her own element to give her insight into that planet’s history.

Sadly, I can’t include pictures of the comic pages without worrying about copyright infringement, but hopefully the links should be enough to give you a sense of the story in terms of plot and art style. Go check it out for free online! Or, if you’d like, buy the books, too! That’s what I did – and that’s how you have a good photo of the books for this blog 🙂

Oh, and I hid the bonus features for this SOTM entry in here somewhere. Can you find it?

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