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Sunday Slugfest: Cursed Pirate Girl # 1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Steven Bari, Geoff Collins, Bruce Logan, Jason Sacks

Steven Bari

Plot: A young pirate girl sets out on a journey that will hopefully reunite her with her father, who's a pirate too! Along the way, she mingles with nasty boys, the governor's daughter, and a mysterious squawking bird.

Commentary: With a title like Cursed Pirate Girl, you'd expect a curse and a pirate who's a girl. Well, the folks at Archaia Studios Press don't disappoint. You'd also assume from the title that this is some cutesy, adventure starring the eponymous Cursed Pirate Girl. You couldn't be more wrong.

Cursed Pirate Girl is a thrilling adventure that runs the gamut of humor, social commentary, horror, and fantasy. Recreating the style of seventeenth century editorial cartoons, Jeremy Bastian invites readers into a jarring world of a bygone era. His page layout is ingenious, filled will gorgeous detail that demands multiple readings. The dialogue itself is reflective of the period while being relatable rather than unreadable.

The protagonist is an orphan girl who seeks to one day be reunited with her father, the greatest pirate captain there is. But before she can do that, she must find a boat to escape the rough streets of a port town.

Bastian fills these streets with twisted, surreal characters whose griminess is compounded by the over-the-top architecture housing them. For instance, the contrastingly austere Governor Maygun visits the seedy bar of Mr. Denny, whose head and powered wig is equal to the size of his body. Denny's face is as warm and inviting as a grandparent's smile, but has all the crookedness of a midnight miscreant. Maygun is skillfully distinguished from his citizens by his thinner frame and nearly constant condescending expression, as he strides beside bizarre buildings shaped like fish.

The color palette further characterizes this moody landscape. The majority of the background, including the people, is in black and white or comparative shades of beige when on the beach. The main characters are accented in red, gold, brown, and yellow, with purple saved for only the most regal persons. This not only distinguishes the classes of this town, but also defines their personality. The Cursed Pirate Girl, as she is known throughout the story, is painted in hues of brown like other boys, while the governor's daughter is pink. As story progresses, the two form a relationship that is reflected in the stately girl's coloration.

As a fan of comics, art, and good storytelling, I found myself engrossed in Cursed Pirate Girl. This is another amazing story from the publisher that brought you Mouse Guard. Yet unlike Mouse Guard, this tale may not be suitable for the same younger audience. The concern arises not from the violence, which there is little, but from the horror elements of the story. Although confined to the final pages, these images gave me the willies, so I express caution to parents wanting to pass this onto their child.

That said, as I am not a parent, I can only encourage anyone under the age of maybe eleven or twelve to proceed with a hand firmly placed in a parent's palm.

But to all you grown ups, Cursed Pirate Girl is a must-read.

Final Word: Buy It Now!




Geoff Collins

Aesthetically, this is a very unique comic book. The art is closer to 18th paintings and illustrations than to comic book art. The lettering is cursive writing. Even the layouts are unique, in some cases annoyingly so. This makes the issue interesting to look at because it is unique, but the audience that accepts it is definitely going to be either "artsy" or very young.

The character Cursed Pirate Girl isn't the central character in this issue. The central character is a girl named Apollonia. She is the daughter of the governor of Port Elizabeth, Jamaica in 1728. Her father, Governor Maygun, is high class and snobby towards the other people in his city and goes into rants about how bad pirates are--much like Kiera Knightly's father in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Apollonia happens to meet another little pre-teen girl on the beach who claims to be a cursed pirate and goes by the title name. Obviously, the father disapproves of Cursed Pirate Girl and hilarity ensues.

I think the names were carefully picked for the characters. Though I cannot easily research a name like Mr. Six, I did find that Apollonia is a fairly common Latin name. There is also an early Christian martyr named St. Apollonia, who was beaten and threatened to be burned if she did not denounce her faith; rather then denounce it she escaped her captors and threw herself into the fires she was threatened with. Because her teeth were knocked out during the beating, St. Apollonia is a mascot for dentistry (seriously, she is) and the Saint of Teeth.

Maygun cannot be easily researched online because it has become a slang term for scenesters on MySpace, making for a lot of sifting that I do not want to do. Also, Port Elizabeth, Jamaica does not appear to have been an actual city. There is a St. Elizabeth Parrish, Jamaica but the only Port Elizabeth I found was in South Africa.

Though the story was fun and creative, it wasn't as interesting as the art. If the story doesn't interest you, at least take a look at the art.

Bastion clearly was going for 18th century artwork by using the same lines, colors, and even several of the page layouts as that era's illustrations and paintings. While Cursed Pirate Girl is less close to life than many of the paintings that have survived since those times, the backgrounds and colors mimic the style and characteristics. Characters in the foreground are often distorted; characters like Mr. Denny have oversized heads. Others are very small, and goons like Mr. Six and Sharky are mammothly large. The foreground characters still are similar to that era's illustrations that decorate handwritten books from that time; Because books were so expensive prior to the printing press, bookmakers would put illustrations in the margins.

There are three pages where I think the layout was intended to be an homage to book illustrations from that era. Two pages have a panel showing a broad view of the scene framed by panels of the characters and their dialogue balloons. This reminds of the books which have the words in the middle of the page, framed by artwork. A more direct connection can be made between the books and this comic in a scene where the character Sharky is dumping a body within a few panels in the middle of the page, with extra artwork along the outside.

Even the lettering was very different, not only in the unique fonts but also the placement of the balloons. When characters shout, the balloons look more like broken wood planks. Sometimes the words come out of characters' mouths like a banner, rather than as a balloon with a tail.

Occasionally, there were pages laid out that didn’t follow the English form of reading left to right, top to bottom. One case of this is a scene where Cursed Pirate Girl is telling Apollonia about how she became cursed and the page layout reads top to bottom, then left to right which forced me to stop and think about the order which I was supposed to read it in--and that’s not the only time I had that problem.

So this is an enjoyable book, and I found it very interesting. But I don’t think it'll attract a wide audience.




Bruce Logan:

Exclamation: "Ahoy matey!!"

Explanatino: Once there was a wee widdle (aristocratic) girl. Naive in the ways of the real world, the girl one day met her opposite, one who was as poor as the young girl was rich, as street as she was naïve. Just to make the difference all the more clear, this other girl sported a head full of long unruly black hair while she had soft, well groomed golden locks. As fate would have it, the two struck up a friendship. The girl's new friend fancied herself a pirate-captain in the making and said that her father was the greatest pirate captain ever. The girl's new friend claimed that she (the friend) was cursed. And it was the truth. Well, at least that "cursed" part.

Examination (Story): It is said that first reactions are (often) the most lasting ones. It's all fine and dandy but as with quite a few things the "first reaction" doesn't quite work with comic-reading, especially when it involves reviewing this comic book. Why do I say this? Well, right off the mark my first impression of Cursed Pirate Girl #1 wasn’t particularly positive. It was, in fact, quite the opposite. Not only did the coloring come across as a bit too dull to me, the lettering a bit too stylized--cursive and small, making it difficult to read--and even the art was…not quite there. Also given that the main two protagonists here are kids, the dullness just got amplified.

I almost passed on reading it, let alone spending the time getting this review down.

Thank gawd that my common sense prevailed.

Plot wise Cursed Pirate Girl #1 doesn't reveal much about the "curse." Sure, we get a story, but given that it's from the perspective of the young pirate girl, we can't be sure about its veracity. The cursed pirate girl pads her behavior, speech and stories with an (affected?) flamboyance. Compared to her, Apollonia, the daughter of the governor of the land, is as innocent and naive as a fawn. Side-by-side the differences between the two is all the more humourous, even more so when Apollonia puts on her one-man… okay… one-girl pirate show on her birthday, and that too right in front on the visiting/guest prince.

Still, not everything is perfect. Apart from the previously mentioned secret of the curse, the last quarter of the issue seems rather dark and mismatched with the rest of the issue. The "curse" bit is fine for its mystery seems to be a big part of the story of the Cursed Pirate Girl (yes, that's the name she uses) and as such is bound to titillate and get played out for a while. But the pages with the shark--unless this series is not necessarily for the younger audience--should have maybe gone with a less blood and gore filled sequence. However, more than the writing, it is the visuals I'd hold responsible for that.

Examination (Art): Speaking of the art, apart from the aforementioned shark scene, the artwork of Cursed Pirate Girl is fairly enjoyable. Although a bit flat, the colours even grew on me. I especially liked the exaggerated physical aspects of the characters, from Mr. Denny's huge head to Apollonia's diminutive size. Even the shark scene, my least favorite part of the issue, is done well.

Proclamation: A couple of missteps notwithstanding Cursed Pirate Girl gets my vote for being intriguing and enjoyable enough to have me looking forward to the next issue.

You can find more reviews by Bruce Logan at www.xcave.net




Jason Sacks:

The first thing I noticed about this comic is Jeremy Bastian's stylized art. It's a very unique and personal style, but also one that feels reminiscent of classical cartooning. There seems to be some Winsor McCay influence in the art, which is not exactly common these days. At the same time, the intensely detailed backgrounds, unique layouts and oddly-shaped people all reflect a uniquely personal style that feels like a distillation of the work of many early 20th century comics and illustration artists. Whether Bastian has studied these historical works or if he's simply presenting his own idiosyncratic style, it's a very unique and inspiring style.

At the same time, readers may find the artwork a bit off-putting. It's resolutely Bastian's style, with a feel that no other artist is presenting these days. That may or may not take away from your enjoyment of this book, but it seems to me the target audience might like that aspect of the comic.

The target audience for this comic seems to be elementary school-age girls, the kind of girls who enjoy a rollicking action-adventure with girls whom they can look up to. What girl can resist the adventures of a girl who knows how to fight, and loves doing so? Especially one who secretly has a complicated family life? When readers first meet the cursed pirate girl, she shows a swagger and intensity that are more common in male heroic characters; when she out-fences a boy on the next few pages, the pirate girl shows that the swagger is deserved.

Bastian does a few interesting things in the battle scene, including nice work with changing perspective and angles on scenes. But more interesting is how Bastian shows different reactions to the scene, showing the faces of the kids who watch the fight. It's a nice trick because it really sucks the reader in; if these kids are so entranced by the girl, it drags the reader into the story as well.

As the issue moves to its conclusion, it moves from playful violence to real violence involving a dead body and a shark. In those scenes, we learn that the cursed pirate girl really is cursed. There is something deep and mysterious going on in her life that gives the story a nice, interesting edge.

One thing that might put off kids from the book is the font on the word balloons. It's a very illustrative and old-fashioned font that I had a bit of trouble reading at times. Perhaps Bastian went too far by choosing a font that might pull the reader out of the story a bit.

This is a wonderfully unique comic with some very unique artwork. I liked the cursed pirate girl, and I think there are a lot of kids who might agree with me.






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