Ralph Azham: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love?

I’m a fan of Lewis Trondheim’s diary comics, but I didn’t care much for his fantasy Dungeon series. Perhaps that’s because they were done with a co-creator, or perhaps it’s just that I didn’t like the sword-and-sorcery RPG feel they had. As a result of this mixed forecast, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of Ralph Azham, which has a fantasy setting but a more slice-of-life approach.

The small hardcover is formatted in landscape, with each page effectively serving as a strip, complete with punchline. It’s the story of Ralph, the village outcast. As the book continues, we learn a lot more about his background, his family, and his relatively useless superpower, so I won’t spoil much here, but I will say that Ralph has a very modern personality, almost a hipster type. He’s smarter than lots of people around him — or at least able to predict and/or outwit them — but he hasn’t done much with himself. He blames his circumstances for that, and by the end of the book, we’re beginning to see a situation that might finally get him to step up to what he could achieve if he tried.

What’s not typical, and what made this most interesting to me, is how no one is particularly trustworthy. There isn’t a lot of obvious Good and Evil, the way there is in a lot of fantasy stories. Everyone’s lying, in some form, and discovering those secrets makes up much of this book. I hope there’s a second volume soon, to wrap up the story. This book just gets everyone in place for the next big quest, as is expected in the fantasy genre.

The main negative factor for me was the use of one word. I was shocked by Kim Thompson’s translation at one point, where Ralph yells at a departing couple an insult. “Have a great life among the lowland retards! You’ll fit right in!” I wouldn’t have thought such a great translator would use such an inappropriate word choice. (And I didn’t find it in keeping with the character, either, to forestall that argument.)

I was also a bit uncomfortable with one of the supporting characters. One of his friends is a pushy cat-girl who won’t take no for an answer when it comes to getting romantically involved. I think there’s supposed to be comedy in how she wants this guy everyone thinks is a loser, or maybe in him turning her down, but the way she was forcing herself on him wasn’t funny to me.

The art features Trondheim’s typical animal-headed people, hanging out in a rural, quasi-medieval setting. As expected, given his talent, he does a great job with the art, from rockslides and floods to the quieter, conversational moments. The colors by Brigitte Findakly are not only lovely and well-suited to the work, but necessary for a plot point.

I’m still not entirely sure whether I’d recommend this book. If you like Trondheim, yes. If you want a sardonic take on fantasy that pays more attention to people living in mud and squalor than epic battles, yes. Otherwise — it’s a curiosity, at best. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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