By Ben Boruff
Writer Paul Allor and artist Louie Joyce have created something special: a clever, quick-paced fantasy miniseries that thoughtfully explores several pressing sociocultural issues. Given its multifaceted characters, intelligent dialogue, seamless pacing, and enchanting artwork, Past the Last Mountain proves that indie comics are capable of telling stories that are both engaging and meaningful. Like a gritty, mythological version of Disney’s Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (or the original novel by Sheila Burnford), this comic focuses on the lives of three creatures—a dragon, a faun, and a young troll—who overcome adversity and travel long distances. The trio attempts to evade the determined clutches of the government after escaping from an “internment preserve” that houses a variety of fantastical beings.
Though the comic features storybook creatures like dragons and goblins, it remains grounded in reality. Like Marvel’s mutants, Past the Last Mountain’s Narnia-esque characters are systematically disadvantaged by an oppressive, fear-filled dominant power. Given the current social and political climates in the United States—climates of unfiltered xenophobia, insidious racism, and mulish disdain for alternative lifestyles—Past the Last Mountain’s story of several marginalized individuals who desire better lives seems dishearteningly familiar. The analogy is limited, but the comic’s ability to evoke empathy for most of its characters allows the story to act as a springboard for more targeted conversations about equality and acceptance.
Instead of existing as a distraction or a crutch, Louie Joyce’s artwork enhances the narrative by offering its own emotional fodder. Sometimes minimalistic and often cinematic, the panels draw the reader’s attention to emotions and details not specifically noted in the dialogue. In several panels, Allor eliminates all words, allowing Joyce to fill the sections with pastel renderings of pain, determination, and loneliness. Joyce’s use of shadows and silhouettes often acts as a sort of printed rack focus, shifting the reader’s eyes smoothly from one idea to the next. The comic consists primarily of dark, muted colors, but Joyce peppers the pages with harsh reds and oranges, as if acknowledging the sharp shocks and pains that interrupt the more frequent despondency felt by many.
Past the Last Mountain is more than a fantasy comic: it is an exciting, heartfelt action story that uses interactions between fairy-tale characters and government officials to create an effective social commentary. Allor’s narrative soars gracefully from page to page on the wings of Joyce’s nuanced artwork. The characters are complicated, which makes them refreshingly relatable, and the story is relevant. In a 2013 lecture for the Reading Agency, author Neil Gaiman noted the benefits of escapism, arguing that fantasy worlds offer readers a safe place to acquire knowledge and tools with which to better tackle problems in real life. Past the Last Mountain offers this sort of fantasy world—use it.
Past the Last Mountain #1
Writer: Paul Allor
Artist: Louie Joyce
Publisher: Comics Experience