By Levi Remington
In John Layman and Sam Kieth's eclectic and surreal ode to classic European fables, Eleanor and the Egret #1 tells the story of Eleanor, a woman who steals art from all across Paris with the help of her magical pet bird, an Egret, who eats the stolen art and consequently expands in size by a significant degree, as birds do. Read ahead for my thoughts on the delightful beginnings of this bizarre miniseries. In the meantime, I'll be pondering the origins of a feather with Cheswick the cat, lamenting the absence of my Bird-Identification specialties, and picking advanced locks with the beak of a mystical heron.
After Layman's infamous run on Chew, he has decided to cleanse his palate with an upbeat and pleasantly charming short story reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's films; it's unapologetically weird and fun with an approachable simplicity and unflinching love for animals. It reads like an all-ages comic, not because it drops "relatable" references or indulges in the nonsensical quirkiness of your latest Cartoon Network property, but because its remarkably old-fashioned. The book is straightforward in its efforts to create an innocent sense of fun out of an imaginative concept.
Not much is known about Eleanor. It's clear that she's a capable thief who's quick on her feet, if not a bit awkward, but her motive is unclear. Still, you can't help but like her and her pet Egret. Even the antagonist of this so-far-established world, the detective who specializes in stolen art investigation and recovery, is irresistibly likable. It's hard to resist smiling as he frequently defers to his cat's whimsy, asking it for advice on the case.
The immediate fondness for the characters stems from Sam Kieth's terrific Art Nouveau-inspired designs. The visuals manage to be both expressive and eloquent, with each character and animal having a very distinct look. The backgrounds are almost nonexistent, however, as they are replaced by painterly color splotches that compliment the subjects wonderfully. Colorist Ronda Pattison is doing a fascinating job as well. Her creamy pastels bring these zany characters to life.
The unique panel layouts are a big part of what makes this book so visually appealing. Scenes are loosely connected by unpredictable panel edges and placements, featuring some signature Nouveau curves that give the art a classy elegance. The lettering is also impressive, so finely integrated with the art that it rewards any reader who takes their time to observe smaller details.
What Eleanor and the Egret lacks in plot specifics and well-developed characters, it more than makes up for with its charming style, stunning art, and lively page designs. Seeing as this is the debut issue for the miniseries, the "lack of information" complaint doesn't hold much water. But even if it did (and it eventually may), I'll happily be along for the ride, because this book looks and feels like nothing else on the stands.
Eleanor and the Egret #1
Written by John Layman
Art by Sam Kieth
Colors by Ronda Pattison
Letters by John Layman
Published by Aftershock Comics