This is a wonderful book. Wonderful and vexing, the latter because one wants more right away. Luckily future books are promised, ones that will hopefully continue this magical story. The stories here are fairytales, which even if read still usually enter our consciousness through the ears. Seeing these Slavic legends in comic book form - depicted in all their resplendent color, with comics’ amazing ability to convey great movement on a still page - takes them to a whole other level, giving them a lifeforce that keeps one avidly flipping the pages. Our world myths do share common bonds and, much like Eris’ fruit in Greek mythology starting the Trojan War, this story begins with a war caused by a golden apple. Tiny factors lead to great and grave consequences, with the main conflict here being an almighty battle between the animals and the birds. It all looks very cool, evoking the intensity, speed, exhaustion, and heat of such a skirmish and highlighting the fierceness of these beasts, the only trouble being that except for one tiny blurry panel, the combat is shown all in close-ups. What is hailed as a great fight is never actually seen as one. While the book does not suffer for it, a trick feels missed.
This is the first book of Nobrow’s ‘Gamayun Tales’ by Alexander Utkin. Gamayun is a playful and elegant “magical human-faced bird from Slavic mythology”, her love of having an audience for these stories evident as she keeps popping in along the way, providing links as we travel from battlefield to forest to the Copper, Silver, and Golden Realms. But the titular “King Of Birds” is of course the eagle, who needs nursing back to health after the aforementioned great battle. Enter the merchant and his wife, the most European-looking of anything in this book. Perhaps it’s the presence of so much gold mixed with talking creatures that puts one in mind of lysergic scenes conjured by Carlos Castaneda. The avian royalty certainly bear some resemblance to Aztec art – and the female fowl share the fluidity of Hanco Kolk’s Single leading ladies – though this goes to show how these stories are connected deep within the world consciousness.
One of the best episodes comes right after this introduction of the merchant, who will play a major role in the story from this point on. We meet him one morning, dressing after a most prescient dream, heading into the forest to hunt. Utkin does a lovely job of - in just two panels on page 23 - having this walk into the woods represent the journey into the subconscious. And the vivid colors of what he unexpectedly encounters there, coupled with its quick pace and wide range of emotion, make the next two pages simply striking while carrying us to where we need to go before we even realize it. It should be pointed out that Utkin packs a lot of feeling into this story and, true to life, emotion pops up all over the place. Only in hindsight is it easy to see what had been bubbling under the surface all along.
In retrospect, one may remember that fairytales are most often told to children. But while kids will certainly enjoy The King Of Birds, Alexander Utkin imbues this book with an energy that is enchanting to all.