As a huge fan of the kinetic, punk-rock-infused art that Wes Craig did on Deadly Class, I was pleasantly surprised to discover he had an upcoming series that he was not only drawing, but writing as well. Kaya presents a brilliant kind of fantasy world that borrows inspiration from such a diverse bunch of sources that it only adds to its creative uniqueness, not unlike George Lucas throwing Flash Gordon serials, Kurosawa films, and WWII fighter pilot footage into a pot to make Star Wars. In this case, Craig has cited Conan the Barbarian, Hellboy, Adventure Time, Jack Kirby’s Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, Bone, and more as inspirations for Kaya. The comic is all of these titles and none of them at the same time, because they’re all so thoroughly blended together into something new. Kaya is set in a place that’s ancient but timeless, alien but familiar. The way the worldbuilding plays with contradictions reminds me of something like Bionicle or Samurai Jack, and it promises limitless possibilities for where the heroes could end up next.
Speaking of the main characters, they’re both very clearly defined right out of the gate. Kaya is a strong-willed hunter with a mysterious metal arm and a reluctance to seek out help. Her younger half-brother, Jin, is a bit of a spoiled brat, as he used to be a prince before his people were all but decimated. Still, Jin does seem to have some respect for his older sister, and the narration (provided by an older, wiser Jin from the future) suggests that their journey will change them in ways we’ll have to wait to find out more about. Craig is good about setting up mysteries about the two survivors of “Kahaka, home of the last tribe of man”, like what happened to Kaya’s original arm and why the Atrians want to kill Jin. It can be difficult to withhold just the right amount of information so that the reader is curious but not completely in the dark, and Craig succeeds at walking that fine line. He leaves you eager for more without the first issue feeling like it’s lacking some critical piece.
The supporting characters are also delightful. This issue introduces a gang of “Lizard Riders”, and as soon as you read that name, you’ll wonder if they’re lizards who are riders or people who ride lizards. The answer is simply…“yes”. Some of the Lizard Riders are excessively cruel and wear black leather, like Jim Henson creations bound for a Ramones concert. Others have a more regal, medieval look and are more sympathetic to our heroes. The latter group includes Seth, a friendly hunter with a wispy mohawk, cute beady little eyes, and tiny lizard teeth. Seth is an old friend of Kaya’s, and though I’ve only just been introduced to the little guy, I would die for him without hesitation. I genuinely can’t wait to see what other strange critters inhabit this world.
While Craig’s talent as a writer caught me off guard, I definitely knew that this book would look gorgeous going in. Even though the overall style of Kaya is more cartoonish than Deadly Class, there are certain constants in Craig’s art: the “whoosh” that clings to the surface of characters in motion, the letters of sound effects quivering and shaking like they exist in a physical space, and the frequent use of heavy shadows that dramatically black-out characters. As much as you can point to details in the characters and world that are inspired by artists like Kirby or Mignola (Kaya’s thick lines and Hellboy-esque arm come to mind), all of these pieces are assembled in that unmistakable Wes Craig style.
Kaya and Jin’s epic journey is one that you’re going to want to follow along on. You can get a taste of what the series is like by reading the Kaya #0 prologue, which sheds a little more light on the siblings’ backstory.