Writer: Leila del Duca
Artist: Kit Seaton
Publisher: Image Comics
There is so much to drink in within the pages of Leila del Duca’s debut graphic novel Afar that one is left feeling rather unsated when it comes to an end – not because the story or artwork aren’t up to mark, but because they feel like they could well extend to being more than one story.
Set in a post-industrial desert wasteland that seems inspired by African and Middle Eastern landscapes and cultures, Afar tells the story of 15-year-old Boetema, who suddenly discovers she can astral project herself into beings in other planets while she sleeps.
Unable to control the ability, she accidentally becomes the cause for a young man in a distant planet to be hurt, and must now figure out a way to get back there to save him.Meanwhile, on more down-to-earth matters, Boetema and her 13-year-old brother Inotu are left to fend for themselves in a small town when their parents temporarily leave them, earn a living as salt shepherds.
When Inotu unwittingly gets on the wrong side of a mysterious cyborg bodyguard, their only recourse is to flee across the desert, hoping to make it to the fabled city of Yopan.
An accomplished artist herself, Del Duca – whose works include Shutter and Scarlet Witch – is a natural at telling a narrative with plenty of visual potential. Her story is both engaging and rich with unexpected elements, such as Inotu’s charmingly misspelt handwritten diary entries.
All this, in turn, is brilliantly realised by Kit Seaton, previously a webcomics illustrator.
Seaton’s artwork in Afar is stunning, with each flip of the page yielding rich new delights. The initial highlights are definitely the various planets Boetema travels to, where the art brings to life a dizzying array of Del Duca’s imaginings.
A planet of humanoid aquatic creatures are depicted in shades of watery reds and purples, while a green-tinted world of feline beings communicate in lettering that resemble claw marks. Yet another planet displays inhabitants inspired by various species of wild dogs clothed in indigenous prints, while we get a glimpse of a world of sentient clouds.
Any one of these worlds could be a fascinating story on its own, but we are whisked through them, sometimes with barely a panel to pique our interest.
Yet, the depictions of more mundane scenes are equally arresting, thanks to Seaton’s skill with details. A crowded marketplace where myriad cultures come together, or Boetema and Inotu’s lonely trek across a desert landscape, are as exciting as the otherworldly adventures.
Which is fitting for a story that, unlike many of its kind, is primarily concerned with the human rather than the fantastic. While Boetema’s ability is an important thread in the story, Del Duca locates the heart of the tale in the relationship between the two siblings.
Left behind by their irresponsible parents, Boetema and Inotu’s journey is about learning to trust and support each other.
In some ways, the parallel storyline of Lindu, whose body Boetema inhabits in a different planet, feels under-developed.
When Boetema accidentally causes one of Lindu’s friends to be hurt, she returns again to Lindu’s body to try and save him; but we don’t spend enough time with these characters to feel invested enough in their story.
Similarly, we are given hints as to the whys and hows of Boetema’s abilities – through the appearance of an enlightened bug-like being that recalls the Caterpillar from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – without much more explanation.
Perhaps a sequel is in the works, and if there isn’t, there should be. Del Duca and Seaton have created a fascinating world here that begs for both repeat visits and many more explorations.