Pullbox Reviews: Nils paints a beautiful Nordic allegory of nature vs technology

Writer:  Jerome Hamon

Design & Artwork:  Antoine Carrion

Translation:  Jeremy Melloul

Localization/Editing/Layout:  Mike Kennedy

Publisher:  Magnetic Press (a subsidiary of Polarity Ltd)

Price:  $29.99 (for the English language collected hardcover)

Available:  January 29

In a far-distant, dystopian future, the earth is dying. Plants will not grow, no children, cubs or youth of any species are being born.  Farms and entire rural communities are fading to dust.  Even major tech-infused urban nations, Cyan chief among them, find their populations dying off.  Well, select portions of their populations, at any rate.

Legends tell of “Elementals,” spirit-beings which infuse all living things with the potential for growth and development—and without whose energy, nothing will grow.  Nothing can grow.  Sometimes, legends are just stories…sometimes, they are more than true.

Farmer-researcher Ruben, his son Nils and his falcon Fitz set off in search of information.  Somewhere that seeds might germinate, crops grow.  Hope.

Instead, they find a mystical forest, populated by the mysterious Elementals (though far, far fewer of them than even scant years ago) and under the protection of a clan of female warrior-women.  And under siege by the relentlessly hungering machines of Cyan.  Impulsively acting to save warrior Alba from an invading machine, young Nils soon finds himself and Alba swept away on a quest to stop Cyan from destroying the wood, while father Ruben is captured by the menacing Cyans.

And thus begins the epic tale of Nils

For those seeking material a bit off the beaten path, allow me to present Nils: The Tree of Life, presented by Magnetic Press in English in hardcover collected format (the source material was originally published in France from 2016-18, in three volumes).  An absolutely stunning, almost dreamlike at times artistic wonder, Nils adapts the Nordic myth of Yggdrasil, the Celtic concept of the Morrigan and a variety of cultural mythos and folktales into a fascinating story of nature versus technology and the cycle of life and death.  Fans of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (soon to be a comic itself—WOOT!), Chris Callahan’s The Misplaced (and frankly you all should be, on both counts) or who simply enjoy a beautifully-rendered epic should thoroughly enjoy this one.

Now, let me be clear: when I say the art on this one is gorgeous, I am not speaking in hyperbole.  Truly, several pages (similar to Callahan’s work in The Misplaced and Ashley Witter’s in Squarriors) are frameable as standalone prints.  The entire work—all 183 pages, including gallery—is a study in the power of effective color.  Now, don’t get me wrong: the linework by Carrion is outstanding.  Just the right balance of detail and suggestion, and wonderful articulation of faces and expressions.  But the colors!  Goodness, the colors!  In the background, throughout the landscapes and cityscapes, they are elegant, soothing—in all the right places, depressing and ominous.  But the depth and life they provide faces and bodies through the epic are truly extraordinary.

And none of this is to minimize Jerome Hamon’s story and writing.  An allegorical tale about man’s desire to play god, and to take from nature without providing anything in return, Nils gets its point across without hammering the reader over the head or bogging down story.  Dialogue is generally crisp, each character type and clan having their distinct communication styles without becoming challenging to follow.  The sheer scope of the story, and the multiple folklores it engages (primarily Nordic, but with a number of other influences from around the globe) could have been an utter mess, but Hamon ties them together near-seemlessly.

And special kudos to Jeremy Melloul for his translation: it couldn’t have been an easy task, maintaining the tone and pace of a Nordic tale, written in French.  Anyone who took year three of a foreign language course in high school—or who’s watched an American-dubbed anime—has an appreciation of how difficult this can be.

All in all, an extraordinary production, one absolutely worth the money and the significant amount of time you’ll spend reading and simply looking at it.  Get one ordered at your local comic shop, or preorder it on Amazon.  In fact, you might want to order two—I’m telling you, some of those pages would like right nice, framed in a blue- or green-themed room…

Score: 13 (of 13)

Review by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com

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