Monday, November 30, 2015

Russian Olive to Red King

The last book I read by these creators, Moving Pictures, was a very mature and serious look at art, life, and the lengths that people will go to preserve both. Russian Olive to Red King takes on a different set of themes, those of love and loss, but it does so in a similarly complex and nuanced manner. This is not really a book for younger readers, not because it is full of sex or violence but because it tackles legitimately mature themes about major life events.

The story follows a couple, Olive and Red. Olive leaves for a business trip to a remote spot in the Russian wilderness when there is an accident. From there, we see how she tries to deal with it as a survival tale. But we simultaneously see how Red is dealing with it at home. As he struggles to get out of bed, do any work, or even walk their dog Pasha, dribs and drabs about him and their life start to emerge and give a larger picture of their relationship.
In an interesting twist, there are also some major indications that at least one of the main storylines is not as it seems. It is that conundrum that really sells the book for me, making for excellent drama and also commentary about the power of will and hope. I do not want to spoil things, so I won't get much more into the plot but will say that the final chapter is an emotional roller coaster ride that is revelatory in multiple senses of the word. Not only is it an essay about life and eventually hope, but it sheds a new light on the entire enterprise.

I was especially taken with the artwork in this book, and how it shifts between minimalist panels and more detailed splash pages. It contains a great range of emotion as well some beautiful wilderness vistas as the story shifts back and forth between locales. This deft combination of images helps to drive the story and create a strong atmosphere, a feature that comes to the foreground even when the time comes in the final chapter when words dominate its pages.

ROtRK is a beautiful and heart-breaking book that is one of the best I have read all year. It is the latest creation of Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, a wife and husband who have worked on many comics over the years. Kathryn has also written multiple series for Marvel Comics, most notably Patsy Walker: Hellcat and Journey into Mystery. The Joe Shuster Award winning Stuart has drawn multiple series for both major comics companies and is the artist for the latest batch of Star Wars comic books. The Immonens speak more about their collaboration on ROtRK in this interview. and also this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Jason Wilkins extolled its virtues, "Evocative and enthralling, this is easily one of the best, most accomplished books I’ve read this or any year." Seth T. Hahne had some great points about its  experimental storytelling, and he expected the book to be "divisive" but still admitted that it "makes for a peach book club discussion." Johanna Draper Carlson wrote, "It’s beautifully illustrated, which makes the harsh story all the more powerful, particularly with the contrast with the warm, often orange coloring." Caitlin Rosberg called it "an excellent read."

Russian Olive to Red King was published by Adhouse Books, and they provided a preview and much more here.

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