The well-worn tropes found within classic fairytale stories are pretty widely known at this point: A brave knight ventures on their own on an epic quest to save a fair maiden from a perilous, isolated location and earn the pair's happy ending. These narrative elements have withstood the test of time for centuries, retold and reinterpreted over countless fantasy stories. The nature of these tropes serve as the centerpiece in IDW Publishing's latest miniseries, the fantasy comic book story Canto by David M. Booher and Drew Zucker, a fresh take on the genre's familiar storytelling beats.
The new six-issue comic book series is an all-age friendly story that takes place in a strange fantasy world where clockwork slaves are forced to work tirelessly for cruel overseers, forbidden to love or literally make a name for themselves as the work themselves to death in the mines. With self-identity a very act of rebellion, one young worker names himself Canto and falls in love but quickly learns that like the fairytale stories he grew up with, he must go on his own epic journey and retrieve a heart to save someone he loves.
Co-creator David M. Booher (Powerless, Alien Bounty Hunter) crafts a fable that wears its fantasy influences very clearly on its sleeve, and is quite apparently self-aware of its own tropes and narrative devices from its opening pages. Fortunately, it does not pat itself on the back for its own ingenuity nor does it detract from the story it's trying to tell; Booher has written perfectly accessible, post-modern fairytale that isn't overly preoccupied on its own revisionism; a sort of clockwork A Princess Bride that isn't afraid to go even more personal and quirkily weird with the genre's possibilities.
Given the oppression facing its main characters, Canto may seem a little darker than most modern fairytales, and yet, it's never particularly off-putting with its story or themes -- this is very much a family-friendly tale. From its titular protagonist tasked with journeying to retrieve a heart to save the woman he loves to self-aware narration, it's not especially subtle in its themes and underlying message but, really, what fairytales and fables are known and renowned for leaning into subtlety? What the creative team does with this debut issue is lay the groundwork for this strange, new fantasy world while comparing it to more well-known stories within the genre.
Joining Booher is up-and-coming artist and co-creator Drew Zucker (The House) with color artist Vittorio Astone to render the world of Canto. The issue's artwork reflects the dirty, industrial world that its characters live in without coming off as overly grungy or harsh. While its characters are forced to work in hellish conditions, the art team is able to maintain the balance between fantastical wonder and oppressive conditions and, perhaps more importantly, keeping their images clean and easy to follow. A lot of this comes down to its character designs; despite being populated predominantly by these clockwork individuals, Zucker is able to instill enough heart (pun not intended) into the characters for readers to instantly connect with them as they endure their overlords and find love in a hopeless place.
A story about love and hope in environments that actively discourage both, Canto is a post-modern, all-age friendly fairytale at a time when it is perhaps needed the most. Booher and Zucker have created a fantasy world that feels distinctly new, largely thanks to its offbeat, clockwork main characters and industrial setting. Fully self-aware of its own leanings into the genre's tropes and narrative devices, the creative team have created a story that injects new life into well-worn genre elements with compromising its enduring qualities. And as its eponymous protagonist embarks on his own hero's journey, the miniseries will likely continue to forge its own voice and new ground as it retreads familiar hallmarks of the genre. An excellent debut for a fable well-suited for life in 2019.