James Owen is a storyteller of a particular kind. In the same way that Bob Dylan is a troubadour / balladist wielding an ancient tradition of lines, tropes, structures, and concerns, Owen walks as a sort of guide to, shuffler, reinventor, and reimaginer of the the world’s inventory of great stories.
I spent a leisurely day this past weekend reading through his 20th Anniversary Nearly Complete Essential StarChild. This is a reprint in a single volume of all the issues of StarChild, Owen’s independent black and white comic masterpiece, as well as the similar and related Mythopolis.
StarChild includes a long story arc relating to the mantle of the consort of the fairy queen Titania, which when worn on a certain All Hallow’s Eve, gives the wearer the power to remake the world by his storytelling. The right to wear the mantle is contested by descendants of different consorts of Titania, as well as assorted friends, and various other major figures of lore and legend — including Oberon, Wayland Smith, and Rip Van Winkle. Numerous storytellers (Shakespeare, Wilde, Neil Gaiman) make cameo or repeating appearances.
In feel, StarChild most resembles an Indie version of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, though it also has resonance with Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. Owen manages to complete the long arc and also tell several satisfying shorts without yet giving the impression that he has exhausted the material, and indeed, I understand that more is to come, possibly under the title Fool’s Hollow (announcement pending).
Owen’s Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica are a sort of adventure-in-all-fantasy-worlds tale. Book one, Here There Be Dragons, begins with a professor’s murder in London, which quickly segues through the appearance of a mysterious book into three Englishman sailing a sentient boat across the Archipelago of Dream, the vast sea of all stories, trying to prevent the mysterious Winter King from erasing magical lands entirely or seizing control of them by taking the throne of King Arthur.
These are delightful tales. StarChild is an Indie comic, aimed at adult readers who can handle a consciously literary, black and white comic book with very little traditional comic action. Here, There Be Dragons is a middle reader fantasy and the first of a seven-book series, but like all really good middle reader fantasy it can be enjoyed by a reader of any age. Indeed, many of the literary in-jokes will be best appreciated by the adult reading the story out loud to children.