Ralph Azham Vol 1: Black Are The Stars by Lewis Trondheim

with colors by Brigitte Findakly and translations from the original French by Kim Thompson and Joe Johnson.

I’m not sure what I expected when I cracked open this volume of anthropomorphic animals living in the countryside. From quite early on you see that our title character Ralph Azham is a bit of a loser, the town’s pariah and scapegoat after he was sent back from Astolia as a teen, his status as a Chosen One rescinded despite the manifestation of powers that turned his bill (he’s vaguely duck-like) and hair blue. Since then, he’s helped his Dad eke out a living and tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to stay out of trouble, an endeavour not helped by his smart mouth and slacker attitude.

But trouble is coming for their village in the form of Vom Syrus and his militant Horde. When plans to defend the village go awry, Ralph and another survivor, young Raoul, take off to find the Emissaries who will hopefully bring them back to Astolia and give them a second chance at being Chosen Ones who can help protect their kingdom. But not everything is as it seems among the Emissaries, and Ralph will soon discover that he’s leapt from the frying pan straight into the fire. Will he be able to rescue himself and perhaps countless others on his journey from being a maladjusted weirdo to becoming perhaps the only person who can save the kingdom from enemies without and within?

Despite the cartoony art style, this feudal adventure is not a kids’ book, and is indeed fascinating for telling a story without clear-cut good and evil. While Lewis Trondheim and I differ on one key point of what constitutes a ghost, I found the murky morality of the story altogether convincing. Ralph as a protagonist is both compelling and annoying, taking no responsibility for anything so that he can claim innocence in all things. This stems less from maliciousness than from a laziness and lack of maturity that is rooted, ultimately, in a refusal to conform. While this is not a bad thing per se, it is a deeply and understandably irritating thing to the people around him.

The concept of killing vs murder is also a big part of the story. Taking the life of another person is sometimes necessary, it shows, but that doesn’t mean that the dead people can’t be rightfully pissed off about it. The book doesn’t waste much time with angst — perhaps shockingly considering Ralph’s immaturity — but it doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences of bad choices. And oh, the rollicking plot! So unexpected were the twists that I actually gasped aloud at several points in the third chapter (this volume collects the first three issues originally published in French.)

Black Are The Stars was a surprisingly deep comic story with flashes of humor and some unexpectedly great art. It reads more like a contemporary adult fantasy novel than a kids’ graphic novel, despite the presentation, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for fans of the former genre.

Ralph Azham Vol 1: Black Are The Stars by Lewis Trondheim was published June 28 2022 by Super Genius and is available from all good booksellers, including

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