So I read the first arc of Rat Queens over the weekend (okay, that’s not quite true; I read it in a fit of glee on Christmas morning), and I have to say that I’m pretty smitten with it.
Here’s the basic concept.
Remember back to when you played D&D in college (or whenever you played D&D; you have played D&D right?) and you had that one adventuring group that you and your friends put together whose entire purpose was to have all the misadventures that your heroic characters were too good to bother with? That’s basically the main characters of Rat Queens, but written with a sensibility that mashes up sword and sorcery style fantasy with a cast that has a decidedly real world approach to their problems (Dee, the Rat Queens’ resident cleric happens to be an atheist, although she still ostensibly derives her magical power from the flying squid god that her parents raised her worshiping, N’Rygoth; it’s as complicated as it sounds). The closest comparison I can make to the affect of Rat Queens‘s world is Discworld. It’s undoubtedly a fantasy universe, but it follows in that vein of looking at everything askew and poking relentlessly at the genre’s tropes (also, there’s Violet, the Rat Queens’ dwarven fighter who rebels against her heritage by shaving her beard and being pretty much as un-dwarfy as she can manage; she seems like a pretty clear homage to Cheery Littlebottom from the Discworld City Watch novels). Combine all of this silliness with a decidedly vulgar bent (there’s a joke on every other page, and more often than not it’s about someone’s sex life, usually delivered by Betty, the innocent looking rogue who cheerfully explains that Smidgens, the world’s stand-in for generic halflings, “like pushing things out of [their] bodies as much as [they] like putting things in ’em”), and you get the general attitude of Rat Queens.
It’s pretty delightful.
Beyond the generally bonkers take on sword and sorcery stories, this series also does a lot of really cool things with its mostly female cast. The art’s utterly fantastic, with all the characters having very distinct looks that instantly differentiate them from one another, which is a really refreshing change from the typical problem that you run into with comics art where all the women have such similar body types that if you removed the hair and any distinguishing patterns from their costumes then you’d probably be unable to tell them apart. That isn’t a problem with Rat Queens; my only regret is that I know the original artist, Roc Upchurch, was arrested a couple months ago for domestic violence against his ex-wife, which makes enjoying the art in the series somewhat difficult. I’ll be going into the next couple of volumes of the series with an awareness of Upchurch’s problem and his recent dismissal from Rat Queens, which colors the experience. It’s a weird place to be where I’ve discovered an artist whose work is so excellent, but whose personal life presents serious problems and leave me hesitant to offer further financial support, especially since I’m coming to the series late, and I know that he was involved with at least the next volume; considering this series is published by Image, I’m assuming that it’s also creator-owned, which means that Upchurch likely benefits directly from the sale of all issues that he was involved in producing.
That’s a conundrum.
Regardless, this series is fantastic, and probably one of the most pleasant surprises of the comics that I’ve read recently. I definitely want to read more.