As is unsurprising for such a substantial collected edition (over 500 pages), Soulwind is a winding and expansive tale. At its heart, this is a story of a boy who becomes a hero, in a very Joseph Campbell hero’s journey kind of way. In typical hero fashion, he saves the world. Also there’s some questioning the fact of the creation of the world. But that’s not where we start. At first, this seems to be a story of a young monk in training with his master. The story shifts suddenly to another perspective, throwing the reader into a bizarre conversation between talking animals and what look like the stereotypical Roswell style aliens. Soulwind covers such an extensive scope in time, including Arthurian legends, hopping between stories and perspectives frequently. It is most definitely an epic story, in several senses of the word. This makes it hard to keep your footing when reading it at first, since there are so many subjects and characters to juggle.
Overall though, the whole comic feels deceptively simple. It has clean art, primarily young main characters, and easy dialogue, while covering complex and sometimes controversial topics. Those include things such as the existence of God or gods, death, suicide, and abortion. One section features a young gay couple, whose relationship is tangential to the story itself and is never used as a plot point or to perpetuate stereotypes. The art is exquisite, shifting all the way from formal Chinese ink brush style to scribbly, childish art, and styles in-between. The art adapts with the current perspective of the story and makes excellent use of negative space. Even in sections of more complex art, the important moments of the scenes aren’t lost in detail.
I wouldn’t recommend Soulwind for children, primarily because the comic is so complex. Much of the higher meaning of the comic would escape them, and it could be frustrating to try and keep up with all the shifts in mood and style. Soulwind does have high adventure, elements of fantasy and fairies, and something of a theme of self-discovery, so I could see it appealing to middle school and high school age kids. Ultimately though, it would be best shelved with the adult graphic novels. ONI Press rates Soulwind as Mature, which is understandable considering some of the topics discussed, but I feel there are definitely teens who would feel drawn to the comic if not for the art alone then for the subject matter. There’s no gore or sex, and even the violence is generally drawn in broad, sweeping strokes so nothing comes across as distinct. Much of the story requires the reader to put pieces together, so I could see a lack of appeal for some readers who prefer a more obvious progression of plot.
This is an older comic, originally published in 1997 and 1998, but the collected edition was recently re-printed in hardcover by ONI Press, coinciding with the comic’s 20th anniversary. A hardcover collected edition is a nice way to add a new graphic novel to a library collection, because the whole story is collected. (Plus, as most librarians know, hardbound copies fare better over time than softbound.) The first four issues of the initial release were nominated for Eisner Awards, and Soulwind is a classic worth keeping in a library collection for its beautiful and unusual story and style.
by Scott Morse
ONI Press, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Mature