Did you ever play a game where you would pass a story around and each person had to add a piece to the story? Now imagine that one person wrote the whole story, but each person who got it had to draw the next chapter. This idea of rotating artists is the driving force behind Josh Tierney’s ongoing fantasy comic, Spera. It follows the adventures of Pira and Lono, two exiled princesses who travel the land of Spera with Yonder, a fire spirit who often takes the form of a dog or human man. Pira dresses as a boy and is frequently the more aggressive of the two adventurers. In volume three, the princesses have been joined by Adel, a student, and Chobo, a one-eyed cat warrior, and are still being followed by Nole and Kyle, two young men from Lono’s Plain Kingdom.
I’ve been interested in picking up Spera for my library for a while. For this review I purposely did not read the initial volumes to see how hard it would be to figure out the story. Fortunately there are recaps of who the characters are and the action to this point. Each chapter also has a guide to the characters featured in that part of the story; they’re done in the style of a character biography in Dungeons & Dragons, with hit points and experience points included.
Just over half of the third volume is devoted to the ongoing narrative, while the remaining sections consist of short stories that illuminate various characters. In the main story, the band of adventurers comes across a giant beetle, a water spirit, and other challenges. When Yonder is put in peril, the group searches for a way to restore his health, but they become separated in the process. Nole and Kyle hinder the group’s progress when they threaten Lono for abandoning their home, which leads to grave danger for all of them. This is where the overarching tale ends, but the short stories that follow help flesh out the main characters, particularly Adel.
The rotating artists are both what set this book apart from other fantasy comics — and are what prevent it from achieving a cohesive story. While each chapter has a distinct look and feel, the character designs are strong enough to establish who’s who. However, the wide variety of art styles is jarring. Art conveys tone, and each artist employs a different emotional template to tell their story. Michael Dialynis has an intriguing whimsy to his art in chapter one, but Cory Godbey conveys a more ethereal and ominous look by chapter three. Amei Zhou’s dark and painterly chapter four matched the narrative as things looked bleakest; then Sam Bosma returns the reader to a more whimsical feel for the final act. The coloring holds the look together, but ultimately the variety of artists distracts from the storytelling. If the entire story were an anthology similar to Flight or even the final section of the book, this might work. As it is, this is an interesting experiment that showcases some beautiful art and illustrates how much power an artist has in telling the story in a graphic novel.
As usual, Archaia has created a beautiful physical product. The hardcover is attractive, and the pages pop nicely with the beautiful colors. While the cover says this book is for everyone, I would put it in the teen section where the rotating artists and the gender-bending characters will be more appreciated and understood.