“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been enamored with making comics that push beyond typical panels and word balloons, and I love the idea of making a comic that can be read by anybody, regardless of the languages they speak. Combine these with a fondness for the natural world as well as ancient, fantastic civilizations and you’ve got the fundamental elements of Mirenda.” - Grim Wilkins
I finally read Grim Wilkin’s ‘Mirenda’, after pining for the full story since seeing it in the now defunct ‘Island’ Magazine, and it was really great. It was a highlight for me in that magazine, and the trade is just more of the same goodness. Apart from being illustrated in a very unique and creative way, the layouts, and the fact that it is silent, make it interesting on some other levels.
When I first saw it, I was immediately struck by how free and open the page layouts are. I’ve seen plenty of comics move away from traditional panels, or going bonkers with panel madness (JH Williams III comes to mind) in an effort to find new life.
I would say ‘Mirenda’ is one of the best examples I’ve found in recent years because it feels completely organic, whereas sometimes it can feel like a cheap conceit. This technique, of having the panels and action flow into each other, perfectly compliments the free, flowing line that Wilkins uses for the main style of the book (I’ll get to the other styles he uses in a bit). It also underlines the open and very natural world in which the book takes place. It’s hard to capture nature’s grandeur in a literal box, which is why a nice vista in a comic will often get a splash page if we’re supposed to really feel it. Unlike that case, where you sort of pick your moments to show the scope of the environment to the reader, having each page be open and free contributes to how wild and vividly imagined this world is.
That brings us nicely to how beautifully the natural elements are drawn in this book. It’s just so lovingly done; from the tiny, carefully rendered leaves to impressive and foreboding mountain-scapes. Nothing hugely profound to point out except that its appreciable how much attention is given to each page and that the environment of this book is just as vital as the humanoids or creatures. It gives the book a charming and unique visceral quality, in that you want to swing on the vines and climb the trees and jump in the lakes. Everything glides gently into each other and the world feels connected and unified, in no small part owing to coloring, which is vivid, fresh, and not overly fussy. You can count the straight lines in this book on one hand. Everything feels organic.
I particularly liked the page where the main character speaks to an ancient statue, who then tells her about a different world. Using an entirely different technique to render that world, that world becomes distinct and separate from the world of the rest of the book. Its a small, but masterful detail that I appreciate so much. By using a different technique to build a world, that world is entirely different and special. That, to me, is visual storytelling at its finest, where the narrative is tied not only to drawings, but to the tools used to draw it (see also: Michel Fiffe) Top notch stuff. Similarly, the beginning of the book uses a different, B+W-ish painted technique that I took to be something of an origin myth. Seeing a giant god walking away is a very potent and cool idea. Reducing the color and adding visual heft to the scene renforces the feeling that this old and this was when things were different.
It’s maybe not the best thing to compare this book with, certainly not in characterization, but in a way it reminds me of David Lynch. He treats secret worlds with a heavy dose of mystery. But things are always immediately different. Sometimes a glimpse of something weird and distant and amazing can mean more than a thousand words about it. This book is great at captures moments of beauty and grandeur and distilling them into succinct, memorable moments.
The bits we see of civilization feel really well observed and worn. In the way that ancient cities around the world eventually wear themselves down into something organically human, you feel that same entropy in the city streets here. Clearly, these are meant feel lived in and to show that there’s a large world, with it’s own history, but we’re not burdened with the usual fantasy tropes. It’s not a kingdom in the north that’s fallen on hard times etc etc. I don’t need to read about trade routes or how magic ‘works’. We’re allowed to interpret it as we want to, and I appreciate being trusted to do so.
I also love how these drawings feel ‘freehand’. I get the appeal of drawing cities “right” but I think they lose exactly what’s on display here; a wild, fun feeling that I think mimics being there better than pure ‘accuracy’.
I mentioned before that the book is largely silent, which I think is just brilliant. I don’t think it loses any narrative integrity for it at all. In fact, I feel as though the world comes alive because of it. You are constantly filling in sounds as you read and making voices in your head for the pictorial speech. Filling the speech bubbles with drawings must have been really challenging, especially when there’s a clear drive to tell a ‘tidy’ story (this tale is pretty lean and light on diversion). While that can be seen as a limit, Wilkins manages to get some really amazing stuff out of the technique, especially in this panel where these apocalyptic monks bubble shows the impending doom of the world superimposed right over the city. Really cool stuff!!
I enjoyed the feeling of being ‘off the hook’ about the history of this world and all of the needlessly complex world-building that fantasy often devolves into. Being free to imagine this place along with Wilkins felt a little participatory in a strange way. Without being able to rely on the inevitable creep of cliche, the reader is forced to live in the present with the characters. When characters feel strange things or have weird visions, it feels as though we are too, without having to worry about prophesy where someone is The One.
I purposefully stayed away from the plot since it’s not super linear and I don’t want to spoil anything that might resonate. I will say though, that its very nice to see two wild female leads eating wild boars and roughing up yokels. It involves magic, friendship and adventure. Thats kind of all you need to know going in, I think. I would say the plot isn’t as interesting as the relationship the reader has with the plot, if that makes any sense. Probably not.
Anyway, enough blabbing from me. It’s a great book, with memorable, friendly characters and a lovingly and brilliantly imagined world. Worth it for the line work alone. This book reads slow and smooth and you’ll find yourself going back again.
Give him a follow: https://twitter.com/grimwilkins
Get a copy: https://imagecomics.com/comics/releases/mirenda-vol-1-tp