If a comic drags MarkAndrew out of his Midwestern silo to make an appearance here at the blog, you know it has to be good!
If you have never read Cursed Pirate Girl, Jeremy Bastian’s marvelous comic (from Olympian Publishing), that’s okay.
It feels, unfortunately, like Bastian will never, ever get around to finishing it, mainly because this trade collects three issues, and he’s not even close to finishing what he has set up for himself. Plus, I can’t imagine he can knock out an issue in a week or two. Plus, I can’t imagine he’s making any money on this sucker. So you may have missed it when it was around in single issue form, and it’s been quite a while since an issue showed up. But that’s why we have this collection, which retails for 20 thin dollars. For three issues? you might ask. Well, yes. But what magnificent issues they are. Even if this story never gets finished, this is the kind of comic that you read not for the plot, but for the intricacies on each page. It honestly matters very little what the grand plot is, because reading this comic is so much fun.
However, the plot, such as it is, is this: In 1728 Jamaica, the daughter of the governor, a girl named Apollonia, comes across our heroine, Cursed Pirate Girl (no, she has no other name) on the beach and learns that CPG is about to embark on a quest to find her father, a great pirate captain. Apollonia wants to join CPG, but her aristrocratic father, naturally, won’t hear of it, and he sends a thug out to make sure CPG is gotten rid of. CPG survives, of course – minus an eye – and is able to enter the “Omerta Seas” – a weird alternate dimension – where she hopes to find her father. Five pirate captains sail the Omerta Seas, so she decides to infiltrate each ship and see which pirate is her father.
Of course, like any good quester, she has aides – a talking parrot named Pepper Dice and two “swordfish,” who are man-sized things dressed in armor with long, pointed helmets (hence the “swordfish” part – the alternate dimension is a bit odd, as you may have guessed).
So there’s the plot. CPG gets into all kinds of adventures on her quest, from getting captured on the first pirate ship she infiltrates to being caught in a sea battle when she comes across the second ship. But the plot is largely unimportant, as this is a showcase for Bastian’s amazing, baroque art. Bastian’s ridiculous details have to be part of the reason why this book is slow, as he takes his time to create this astonishing fantastical world. This extends to the clothing and furniture of the comic, as well – each article of clothing folds and fluffs in the correct way, and Bastian mocks the rigidity of the British upper class and their fashion very well, exaggerating the wigs to a ridiculous degree, for instance. When CPG reaches the Omerta Seas, Bastian gives us a dazzling amount of sea life, from the smallest fish to the giant octopus and the chimerical “dogfish” that fights said octopus. The pirates on Captain Holly’s ship are an amazing motley of humans and anthropomorphic animals, plus wild creatures like the man with the lantern head and the pumpkin with legs.
Bastian has a few large panels packed to the gills with these weird creatures (shouting out to Bosch in one scene), and it makes the book an immense pleasure to read, because you have to take your time to gaze at all the stuff that Bastian crams into it. He deliberately makes some of the human’s heads larger than they should be (beginning with Apollonia’s father but continuing it throughout the book), which adds to the oddity of the design work. Even the “normal” people in this book are a bit out of sync with reality, and it brings CPG’s enduring “normalness” into stark contrast.
The other place in which Bastian excels is the design of the comic. He destroys panel borders or creates one with parts of the art, such as octopus tentacles. He designs full pages that have no panels but still contain separate scenes, flowing into each other beautifully. He uses circular panels liberally, and places ornate designs in some of the gutters. This inventiveness extends to the other aspects of the book, as well. Bastian’s lettering is wonderful – it’s a font you’ll see in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British political cartoons, giving the book an even more musty feel (in the best way possible; this really does look like a document from the early Hanoverian days, which is kind of neat). In addition to that, he does wild things with the lettering and word balloons – the swordfish (who are brothers) speak in word balloons that are as ornate as their speech and occasionally indicate their moods or even the actions they’re describing.
Ribbons of words snake in and out of the main action, including the major clue at the end of this volume, which winds around a singer drunkenly, which is appropriate given that he’s, well, drunk. This entire comic feels like a complete work of art, which isn’t always the case when more than one person is involved or even when the book has a single creator. Bastian has spent a great deal of time thinking about the visual impact of everything in the comic, from the actual things that populate the panels to the way the panels are designed to the way the letters are almost imbedded in the drawings. It’s a breathtaking experience reading this comic, because it’s so immersive.
The biggest problem is, as I wrote above, the fact that the plot does not wrap up nor can I believe it ever will (I found somewhere that Autumn 2012 is the target date for the next volume, but that’s far enough away that I’ll believe it when I see it). If that really bothers you, perhaps you should skip Cursed Pirate Girl. If you want to see an absolutely gorgeous comic that is a true masterpiece of the medium, you’ll want to pick this up. With some works of art, it’s very much not the destination but the journey, and this journey is amazing. Would MarkAndrew steer you wrong?