Ansel has always been different. His dreams show him a world where people in outlandish clothing operate strange machines that do everything from tell time to shoot projectiles to fly passengers through the air. Nothing like that exists in Ansel’s village. Still, the dream world feels so real that Ansel has tried to recreate the things he has seen there, even wearing a suit complete with a dubiously functioning wristwatch of his own design.
Ansel’s friends see him as a harmless oddball, but that’s about to change. Every teen coming of age in their village must declare a Quest, an adventure they plan to undertake before settling down to adult life. Ansel plans to find the legendary and mysterious Folklords, who he hopes might be able to tell him more about his dreams. Unfortunately, searching for the Folklords is absolutely forbidden.
Armed with a backpack full of homemade gadgets, and accompanied by his friend Archer, Ansel sets off on his Quest anyway. Immediately, things begin to go wrong. The forest is full of dangerous creatures – and dangerous people. Archer may have his own shadowy motivations for making this journey. And is someone following them? Ansel has to know the truth about his dreams and the Folklords, but this Quest may be more of an adventure than he bargained for.
If you put a book of fairy tales in a blender with some intrigue and self-awareness, the result might be this volume. Here we have an intrepid hero with a mysterious tie to what is clearly our own world, an elf with an unnerving backstory, and an enchanted forest containing twisted-but-still-recognizable fairy tale characters. Over it all hovers the shadow of the sinister and cultish Librarians, whose job is to guard forbidden knowledge. As the story unfolds, connections continue to appear between Ansel’s world and our own, but there is clearly still more to uncover at this first volume’s end. (Note: currently, the five issues of Folklords collected here are the only ones planned so far, so it is possible that the remaining questions will not be answered).
Ansel is an easy hero to root for. He’s caring, forgiving, brave, and enthusiastic. He has flaws and makes mistakes, like letting his notions about what a Quest should be lead him and Archer to take unnecessary risks, but his idealism and kindness get them out of trouble as well as into it. It’s also amusing to see what he has in his bag of cobbled-together anachronisms. Homemade air horn, anyone?
The supporting characters, meanwhile, lend depth to the story. What are Archer’s true motives for coming on the Quest? Will the self-named Ugly ever break her curse—if it even is a curse? Who is the rogue Librarian they keep meeting, and can they be trusted?
The art is colorful and moderately detailed. Emotions are clear in the characters’ expressive faces and body language. The angular, stylized-yet-dynamic character poses may be familiar to fans of artist Matt Smith’s other work. The backgrounds are interesting, ranging from an elaborate treehouse complex in Ansel’s village to the gnarled trees of the enchanted forest to a very unusual library. Color and lighting are used to good effect, conveying differences in setting and tone.
The tone of the story can be uneven. A heroic adventure tale, it makes a few startling forays into true creepiness. Archer’s family history is eerie, and the fairy tale characters who capture Ansel in the forest intend to torture and eventually eat him—something they have apparently done with plenty of previous victims. Even in these situations, though, graphic violence is implied or discussed rather than directly shown. There is a little on-page blood, and certainly some fight scenes, but our heroes generally prefer to escape or even befriend enemies rather than kill them. As far as other content notes, there is a small amount of kissing (strictly in the name of curse-breaking), but no nudity or sexual situations.
Folklords feels more like a beginning than a complete arc, but readers may still enjoy the introduction to an unusual new fantasy world.
Folklords, Volume 1
By Matt Kindt
Art by Matt Smith, Chris O’Halloran & Jim Campbell
BOOM! Studios, 2020
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)