One of the rare pleasures of knowing artists personally is getting to ride passenger to their artistic journey of growth. Know a creator long enough and you see their art change. To be there, encouraging their work, seeing them develop a voice, and feeling the reward of their creative victories is beautiful and humbling and often makes you wish for their success as personally as you do your own. I can't say 'Once Our Land' will give you that full experience, but I was reminded of it as I read, as this one volume captures the growth of an artist in a unique way. A little backstory. Artist/writer Peter Ricq wrote a short story when he was 19 called 'The Gift'. It was a little fairy tale about a mysterious box arriving in a small German town, hiding a disturbing secret to be uncovered by a young boy. 12 years later, during discussions with a publishing company, Ricq was compelled to return to the story and give it a sequel, 'Survivors', a very different kind of story that retained the setting, premise, and fairy tale tone. Both stories are included in this volume.
In this way, with 'Once Our Land' you don't only get a great story, but also a two part story of the growth of an artist. In 'The Gift' you get a passable story with moments of creativity and a few nice visuals, but awkward art, still feeling around for a style (not that I can talk, Ricq was clearly a more confident capable artist than I was at 19). By the time you get to the story he eventually finished 15 years later, you get a remarkable creator with a strong capable vision that takes you on a simple journey that is one of the best fantasy stories I've picked up in a long time. Despite the difference in quality, the latter story is best paired with the former, giving 'Survivors' a wistful context that makes it richer. Richer still, to read the story from the perspective of a reader enjoying art, seeing that growth of an artist gives the book more than even the story communicates.
The story is simple, so I won't elaborate, but it's a wonderful, imaginative, and exciting adventure. The book's dialogue is entirely German, but is narrated in English, serving vaguely as inexact subtitles, letting you follow the book's story perfectly without having to understand the main character's native tongue. Ricq's art is the obvious highlight, his fully matured style being detailed, expressive, and distinctively unique. There's a scale and motion he captures during his action sequences that is truly impressive, his cast of heroes and monstrosities both detailed and stylisticly simple. In those 15 years, Ricq became an artist whose hand both evokes other styles while never being a mimic, his personal touch truly his own.
The book also comes with a wealth of extras, concept art and page layouts to people who enjoy seeing the process. Additionally, the book also has a deep collection of art created by international artists inspired by the story in a vast range of styles. Often, these kinds of showcase galleries can feel unnecessary or like vainglorious padding, but the art curated here is actually fantastic, driving me to hunt down the art pages of more than one of the featured creators from their works.
'Once Our Land' is not just a great indie story, it's a personal time capsule of an artist, one you've probably not read before. Unlike paging through the juvenilia of a celebrity creator, seeing this artistic journey from I creator I was unaware of before made the reading experience more personal and revealing. It's a book I definitely recommend, not just to fans of good stories and beautiful comics, but people who consider themselves as much fans of the creators themselves as their creations.
[su_box title="Score: 4/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]