Discovering Boulet with 'Kingdom Lost'

I didn't know who Boulet was until this week. I imagine this statement is going to hang over my head, more damning with the passing of each year, like being a big fan of comics, yet having no idea who Hergé is. You'd be all, "Get out of here, you uncultured swine." Fortunately, we live in an age in which Wikipedia exists. After a few searches it's easy to catch up and go, "Yeah ... I'm totally into Boulet." A nervous giggle may or may not follow.

Who is Boulet? It turns out it's the pen name of Gilles Roussel, one of France's earliest and most famous webcomic creators. Bouletcorp has been running since 2004, and its strips have been collected in seven printed volumes.

His talents are also on display in other French print works, such as the sword-and-sorcery parody comic Donjon Zénith. Stateside, Boulet has illustrated Augie & The Green Knight, a children's book written by fellow webcomic creator Zachary Wiener that managed to raise an amazing $384,000 through Kickstarter, totally smashing its humble $30,000 goal. (What's being done with all that extra cash? It's going to fund the printing of 800 copies of the book, which will be donated to libraries.)

So why all this recent Boulet-o-mania? It turns out Boulet is known for releasing epic stories on an unsuspecting readership. Recently, he tapped into his love of high fantasy by releasing the 40-page tale Kingdom Lost. The comic had been intended for print publication, but Boulet is a webcomic creator after all, bound by the unwritten law that information is meant to be free.

The story follows a standard fairy-tale setup, with a wizard doing battle with a burly warrior over an imprisoned princess. Suddenly, he casts a spell that changes their lives forever. What's the nature of this magic? I have seven words for you: Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time. The narrative turns on its head as the three characters deal with a world without magic. What is real? Who do you believe? Which world is better: the fairy-tale world, or the modern world? How relative is the truth, and how much does it depend on what you really want? It's all accompanied with Boulet's lovely, action-packed black-and-white illustrations, which seem to take cues from Dragonball Z's Akira Toriyama.

The cool thing about Boulet is that he's followed by enthusiastic devotees who are always happy to share with you the other times he's surprised readers with epic stories. One such story is the absolutely cool tale called The Long Journey, which hit the 'net around the same time last year. Boulet switches up his style a little by creating a short story with a colorful pixel-art look.

While it looks nice, isn't the switch to a retro video-game appearance a bit unnecessarily hipsterish, especially when Boulet's distinct aesthetic is brimming with life and personality? As it turns out, the change in art styles is inspired. It contextualizes the function of the readers as an active participant. The comic takes advantage of the vertical-scroll capabilities of a web browser, allowing the reader to move a character forward (or, in this case, downward) as if this were a 2D side-scrolling adventure meant to be played on a 16-bit console. You are Boulet's guide. The side-scroller is your controller. When he stops to notice the graffiti on the walls or plunges into the ocean to make out with a mermaid, it's because of you, the reader.

It's a journey that's tranquil, surreal, and quite humorous. It's definitely something I would've missed out on if Boulet hadn't caught the Internet off-guard with his latest masterwork.

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