Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"The Meek" is Beautiful -- Even Without its Naked Heroine

Preeeeeeeeeeeetty colors.

I've been hosting houseguests for the past month, and I've fallen ridiculously behind on my reading. But now that I've reclaimed my living room, I'm back to binging on webcomics.

The problem is, I've somehow managed to acquire a healthy queue of comics without remembering how any of the comics got into my queue. Consequently, I wasn't sure what to expect when I clicked on The Meek.

I didn't expect boobies.

Let's get this out of the way: there's a lot of non-sexual nudity running through The Meek. And when I say running, I mean we open on a naked teenage girl dashing across the screen, her less PG-bits sometimes (barely) concealed by her outstretched limbs. It's not something you should be reading in your cubicle, but it's nowhere near pornographic.

To be honest, the art is so darn pretty that I hardly noticed the teen booty. Artist Der-shing Helmer says that it takes eight to ten hours to complete each page of The Meek, and I believe it. Each page is incredibly polished, with rich colors that create a real sense of light, darkness, and depth. Helmer's style isn't particularly innovative -- that melding of classic Disney style and anime sensibilities that has become so popular of late -- but he she has the skill to keep it interesting. His character design is solid, and his knack for expressions and movement let you almost forget that this is a webcomic and not a feature film.

I could recommend The Meek on art alone, but it manages to be more than just a pretty face. It isn't a Mensa member either, but not every comic has to be. I bitch and moan about high fantasy comics, but that's because too many writers enshrine their own ideas at the expense of storytelling and characterization. Helmer keeps his worldbuilding in the background, preferring to first flesh out his characters and their interactions.

The aforementioned naked girl is Angora, a green-haired teenager raised in the jungle. She is on a familiar hero's quest, charged by a mystical being (in this case a kaiju-sized salamander) to enter the civilized world. She must meet her giant salamander -- called only "Grandfather" -- so she can help him prevent some sort of demonic apocalypse. But first she must recruit an alcoholic explorer and evade the woman-hungry laborers shocked and pleased to find a naked girl in their midst.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, we peer on the emperor and lady of a war-ravaged country. The emperor is in negotiations with ambassadors from the enemy nation, but peace is far from assured. The emperor's rage at decades of horrors is tempered by his fiery wife, but a human and demonic desire for vengeance lurks just barely beneath the surface.

Sure, it's nothing we haven't seen before. But Helmer executes it all with such competence that it's a purely enjoyable read. The pacing, the dialogue, the teasing of clues -- it's all carefully executed while maintaining a happy balance of darkness and fun. It's a comic that understands what it's promising and seems -- thus far -- to deliver.

The Meek isn't a must-read, but if you're looking for something pretty to look at, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

[The Meek]

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