Run Wild original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: K.I. Zachopoulos
Artist/Cover artist: Vincenzo Balzano
Letters: Deron Bennett
Editor: Sierra Hahn
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price: $24.99 US/$32.99 CAN/18.99 UK
Boom!’s decision to absorb Archaia Studios five years ago was a blessing for the comics industry and the craft of sequential storytelling, as it ensured there would be a home for unconventional graphic novels such as this one. Archaia was always a niche publisher and remains so as an imprint, but it gives life to unique projects that will connect with a limited segment of the comics-loving audience. I completely understand why Run Wild found a home there, but unlike other recent Archaia releases, this book didn’t quite work for me. Run Wild is a hauntingly (literally) beautiful book, but it’s also nebulous and perplexing. I can definitely see its appeal, though, and I think fans of the films of Hayao Miyazaki will recognize elements they’ll truly enjoy and appreciate here.
Flynn and his older sister Ava have been left all alone, in the dark about their parents’ whereabouts. They venture into the wilderness, looking for their family but wary of encountering other people or dangerous beasts lurking in the forest. They encounter Bea, a giant fox, who guides them and protects them, promising to take them to her master, known only as Papa. The children find themselves at the center of a multi-faceted conflict among unusual animals, ravenous ghost creatures and transformed humans, all of whom believe the world has reached a tipping and that different courses of action must be taken to ensure destruction or survival, an awakening or a permanent transformation.
Artist Vincenzo Balzano’s simple style is recognizably European, but the Japanese influence at play in his work is undeniable. His designs are quite basic, but he has a strong eye for the natural. I love the flowing lines that come into play as well, and his color palette immerses the story in an appropriately gloomy and supernatural atmosphere. The action is a bit difficult to discern at times, which contributes to the inaccessible qualities of the story. Letterer Deron Bennett has developed an elongated letterform style here that works well with Balzano’s character and setting designs.
What makes this story of the convergence of the natural and the supernatural worlds somewhat relatable is how the main characters are driven by their love of family. Ava and Flynn’s devotion to one another as siblings is touching, as is the recurrence of maternal figures – specifically Bea and the Black Doe – throughout the book. While the complex and rather vague plot is quite confusing, the emotions that course through the characters are clear and pure.
Though the plot isn’t defined well enough and there’s almost a stream-of-consciousness approach to the storytelling, the theme that emerged for me in reading this book is one of balance. There’s a push among some of the characters toward elevating the natural world, embodied in animal life and spirits, over humanity, whereas other players strive to preserve the human spirit despite its destructive tendencies (perhaps represented by the unseen soul machine employed by Papa). No one appears to be right at all, and that what’s needed is something of a symbiosis between humanity, nature and spirituality. It’s all quite intriguing, but it also leaves the reader scratching his head throughout the reading experience. 6/10