Cold Cut Distribution's Feature Spotlight #3 - December 1994
Thieves & Kings
Publisher: I Box Publishing
Story & Art: M'Oak (Mark Oakley)
Cvr Price: $2.35
Do Not Miss This Book!
I'm not kidding. This book is amazing - a bona fide sleeping giant. Think of how well Wandering Star or Cerebus is doing now. And yes, I hate to say it... but it's true: think of Bone. You will be unhappy if you miss this book's boat. If you aren't carrying it, think again. If you're carrying it but have sold out, think about restocking these first issues. This book is Going Somewhere.
Thieves & Kings is the story of a young 13-year-old boy named Rubel. He grew up in a lovely land called Asaria, where he befriended the princess and swore to her that he'd be her "royal thief". They played together for years, but Rubel was then indentured on a ship under a cruel captain. He has just returned to his homeland to find the city strangely... changed. The friendly old wizard is missing, a brittle old note tacked to his door saying he'd be "back soon". And Rubel can't seem to find any of his friends except for the literal imp, Varkias. Then the Shadow Lady appears, and now she haunts Rubel's dreams.
Amazing work. The depth and feel of the characters is full and flowing. M'Oak says he's literally worked for years on the history of this world and the stories in it, and that feeling pervades the book, giving it a verisimilitude you don't find in fantasy comics very often. It feels as finely crafted at its base as Dave Sim's Iest.
Unfortunately, sometimes the execution comes off a bit awkwardly. M'Oak admits outright at the end of issue 2 that he's having a little trouble getting a handle on pacing, and it shows. After scripting, his first issue ended up being 50 pages, but his budget only allowed for 32. Rather than break the story into two pieces or rewrite it wholesale, he settled for an odd solution - half the pages of issue 1 are text pages; with lovingly illustrated borders to be sure, but still: text pages. Note that this will initially turn off some of your readers. Exhort them to persevere, though, and read the text. It reads wonderfully - it surprised me how well issue 1 read, even with all the text. And the advantage to this approach is that when you finish issue 1, you feel as though you have read a story. You've been introduced to characters, to a world, to its history, and something happened. It's a marvelous feeling.
With issue 2, he commits the opposite error and the story ends with a few pages left to go. He fills these with an amusing set of strips he did featuring one of the characters from T&K, but it still leaves you a bit hanging to find out what happens. Of course, that's the mark of a good story - I need to find out what happens!
M'Oak's writing is basically sound and will reward any reader who actually reads this book - and you can tell he's getting better with each issue. In issue 2, Rubel sounds like a genuine 13-year-old when he argues with Varkias over who gets to say the "good things". I'm expecting bigger and better things from M'Oak in a few issues - don't be left behind!
M'Oak has an intriguing, "loose" style of art which incorporates a lot of detail.
Which is fortunate in a book which takes place in a fantasy-city. Plenty of bricks and walls and lines and stones. His art shows definite manga influences (Hayao Miyazaki, mainly), as well as a loopy sort of Phil Foglio feel. He makes good use of lines and shadows (look at the shot we used for the cover - it's just Rubel caught in a rope, but note the shadows on the coil of rope and the bit of stick falling from above. I'm sure the printing of this catalog doesn't do the art justice, but it shows real promise here.
Hoo boy. This is a tough one.
There are a lot of different factions of comic fandom who will find some attraction to Thieves & Kings.
Now, while all of these various readerships will find something to intrigue them in T&K, not all will pick it up, of course. And since T&K is not quite like any other book being published, it's hard to simply pick a direct comparison out of the air.
- Some readers of the Elfquest books will be attracted to T&K. There aren't any elves around, but Varkias the Imp acts as the "small fantasy creature" and the solid fantasy setting will appeal to many.
- Fans of Phil Foglio and his Buck Godot series will like the light fantasy/humorous setting of this book.
- Nausicaa readers will find the art and subject matter appealing - this will be another "manga crossover" series, like Ninja High School.
- For that matter, readers of Ninja High School will like the similar feel in both story and art.
- Fans of A Distant Soil and Bone will both be intrigued by T&K. The art is not as polished as either of those series, but the genre and writing quality are similar.
Certainly, the Nausicaa/NinjaHS people will give it a try - go about half of your current order on those. Then, add to it half the readership of Elfquest and A Distant Soil.
As a starting order level, that should do. And might I suggest letting people in any of these readerships "try out" an issue of Thieves & Kings? Maybe have a couple of "loaner copies" you can lend to these people, or provide a money-back guarantee. If you do so, I recommend issue 1 as a great stand-alone introduction to the series, although readers should be aware that future issues have fewer (if any) text pages. Issue 2 has only a couple of text pages, and future issues are intended to have none.
Click here to see a full page from Thieves & Kings (69K)
Re-reviewed August, 1997
You know, it's been nearly three years since I reviewed Thieves & Kings, and I'm happy to report that nearly everything it promised has shown up in spades. The writing on this book continues to be incredibly strong, and M'Oak's art has continued to improve over the years.
The art still comes off looking slightly "lumpy", but the backgrounds have been getting more panoramic and more beautiful, and the shading has been improving notably. The characters now have much more variety in their posture, their look and general feel. In another few years, M'Oak will have solidified into an accomplished artist - and he's already pretty good, with his own quirky style.
This is still the strong suit of the book - probably the best regularly-appearing fantasy writing in the market today, bar none. A magical quest, a young thief, a dragon's dream, an absentminded wizard, a young apprentice. All these ingredients and more get cooked into a lively stew which each issue brings more new concepts into play and more fun chapters to the story. Everything has meaning in Thieves & Kings - an exciting feeling to encounter.
M'Oak clearly got enough positive feedback on his first few issues with text pages that he decided to keep the concept - so he did! Although occasionally still jarring, usually the text pages add incredible depth and reflective capability to the story. It lets characters "feel out loud", it provides verbal descriptions for settings and characters, and it inserts backstory into odd places in the narrative, which at first puzzle the reader then immediately blossom into that wonderful feeling of "Ah-hah! I see now!". Pacing has improved tremendously, with M'Oak proving a deft hand at cliffhangers - now if only he didn't end each paperback collection on a drastic cliffhanger!
M'Oak has improved tremendously, leaving only a few areas of improvement left - notably the lettering and spelling, which still occasionally jar a reader right out of the world into which he put them. Still, it's easy to forgive problems like that when the world is just so fascinating!
All 17 issues are still in print (and still available from us), as well as two TPB collections: the first volume covers issues 1-6; the second has issues 7-16. Both are bargain-priced, at $12 and $14 respectively.
If you like Thieves & Kings, take a look at:
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