Review by Karl Verhoven
Russian folklore hasn’t been a subject greatly explored in comics, which makes it rich picking for Alexander Utkin. He supplies what are listed in the contents as three different stories, although it’s actually one long connected generational saga despite being previously issued in three small hardcovers titled The King of Birds, The Water Spirit and Tyna of the Lake. They’re named Gamayun Tales after their narrator, a magical human-faced bird that knows everything and can also predict the future, and are packed with astounding creatures and beings, most of them happy to trick or subjugate ordinary humans.
‘The King of Birds’ is a brief opening statement in which a war between birds and mammals is instigated, after which the remainder of the book is a continuing journey beginning when a merchant leaves his house one day after a vivid dream about the forest animals invading his food stocks. “I shall show them who’s in charge” he pronounces to his wife, but it doesn’t quite work that way. By the time he actually returns it’s a year later, and he realises a deal he made with the Water Spirit that seemed such a good idea at the time is actually a disastrous mistake.
During the year he’s been away the merchant has matched wits with wily talking animals and magical creatures, emerged unharmed from desperate situations, and has earned mysterious rewards. Utkin matches the richness of the stories he’s adapting with bold and vivid art reflecting the heightened reality of the creatures and their surroundings, and is entirely fearless when it comes to bright colour. It sets Gamayun Tales apart from other graphic novels and because Utkin is primarily a fine artist by trade he’s confident enough to let the art tell the story and keep the dialogue to a minimum.
Utkin seems to be stitching his stories together, but especially over the first section there’s frustration at Gamayun announcing that how things play out is a story for another time. Eventually most things are explained, but the continuity isn’t a great idea for an all-ages publication. By the middle section, though, Utkin’s worked through his storytelling problems, and that runs smoothly into the final story. Overall Gamayun Tales is a very engaging read with extraordinary art capturing the mood of fairy tales. It should delight young readers and keep older ones pretty happy also, and all should welcome Gamayun Tales II.