Comic Bulletin’s Michael Bettendorf reviews Kingdom of the Wicked by Titan Comics!
Kingdom of the Wicked illustrates that imagination is regarded as one of the most vital aspects of human life. Originally published in 1997 and then collected in 2004, the book is back with another collected publication. This should say something of the value of the ideas held in this book. Written by Ian Edington and drawn by D’Israeli (Matt Brooker), it’s no surprise that Kingdom of the Wicked is still receiving well deserved attention by another publication.
Kingdom of the Wicked follows Chris Grahame, a children’s author writing sequels to Lewis Carroll’s Alice novels. The source material, while only mentioning the name a couple of times and borrowing Alice’s likeness in a scene, gives great inspiration to this book and prepares readers to expect the absurd.
For reasons I don’t want to spoil in case you haven’t read the book, Chris begins to experience headaches, sickness and blackouts and finds himself wandering in and out of the land of Castrovalva, a bizarre world he created as an only child, writing stories and playing with toys to occupy his time. Only now he finds the lands not filled with philosophers, beauty and adventure, but rather stuck in the middle of a rebellion against the Dictator and his army. The bright and colorful landscapes that we’re given in the introduction are now contrasted by the muddy, dirty browns of trenches and the perpetual ominous twilight that backdrop’s Castrovalva. D’Israeli’s ability to shift moods is one of the strongpoints of this book and is presented by changing hues and landscapes that alter perspective to give off an eerie, surreal atmosphere.
Exaggerated features are also a useful way to represent ideas in Kingdom of the Wicked. The facial features and gestures of the characters in the story are drawn with a keen sense of reality to help ground the story in the real world amidst all of the chaos of the imagination. It allows readers to relate to the emotions the characters are feeling even if we can’t relate to the world they’re inhabiting.
While most of the story takes place in Castrovalva and Chris’s head, the scenes that take place in the real world are every bit as important because of the emotional depth to the characters within them. Chris has a family and it’s clear that they care his safety and are supportive during these pressing increasingly frequent blackouts. We learn in the real world that the Dictator is closer to Chris than he could have imagined which really throws the story into the absurd.
That’s saying something – that this story could become even more fantastical. This surprise doesn’t pose a problem, but rather strengthens the theme of the imagination in this book. Edington’s storytelling capabilities paired with D’Israeli’s grasp of the visual medium takes a hold of the imagination and runs with it. It’s the point of the story, to foster not only the imagination of children, but of adults as well.
Kingdom of the Wicked illustrates some ideas of writing that aren’t brought up all too often. The ideas of the subconscious and the worlds that are created never stop growing. When Chris returns to Castrovalva, he finds it is much different when he returned as an adult than when he left. This also echoes how he quit writing, something his father taught him to love and cultivate, and didn’t return until he had children. His stories grew even when he was not actively participating in them. Similar parallels can be made to how we view stories or ideas as children and then again as adults. Growing up steals imagination and often times embeds cynicism, bitterness or lack of creativity in its place. It tarnishes what we grew up loving if we don’t continuously foster our imaginations. Cherishing creativity is abundantly important to the creative team and is ever apparent in Kingdom of the Wicked.
This book is exceedingly poignant and boasts wonderful storytelling. I’d recommend picking up a copy and revisit parts of your childhood, you never know what you’ll discover if you keep exploring.