May 2007

Chris Barsanti

fiction

Korgi: Book One by Christian Slade

To start with, it's really, really cute. I mean adorable. And not in a big-eyed, fluttering-eyelash, chokingly saccharine Hello Kitty kind of way, but cute like when you're walking down the sidewalk on a beautiful spring day and you spy someone walking a sweet-seeming dog, you think or say, "Oh, how cute." Still, it is understood that even cuteness on this non-manufactured, everyday level may be a turnoff for some readers, and so it is well worth pointing out up front. What we're discussing here is the cuteness of, not just the titular character, but the entire concept of Top Shelf's long-awaited Korgi, in which a heroic corgi-like dog battles fantastic creatures and helps save the day. It's an artfully rendered story with a finely honed sense of drama and wonder -- not to mention, really, really cute.

Like Andy Runton's extraordinarily (and rightfully) popular series Owly -- also published by Top Shelf -- this first installment of Christian Slade's Korgi is a wordless fairy tale heavily reliant not just on the adorability of its main character but on its author's ability to relate a story with powerful emotional resonance set in an entirely believable world without once resorting to dialogue. While Runton more directly pitches his series, in which an owl and various woodland creatures overcome adversities and learn valuable lessons together, to a younger audience (though he has many, albeit sheepish, adult fans), Slade creates a somewhat darker and more fully realized fantasy world for his dog to scamper about in.

The book opens on a bustling woodland village, filled with elfin creatures who seem to be living in hand-in-hand harmony with the dozens of happy-faced corgis scampering about. Some of the corgis are large enough for people to ride on their backs, but most are tiny, and fitted out with handy baskets strapped on their backs. The purpose of the baskets becomes clear as the villagers and corgis march out to the fields and begin to work, the villagers filling baskets with berries. The pages begin to focus more on one girl-corgi pair, named Ivy and Sprout according to the publisher (though obviously names are never related in these pages). After they separate from the main group, the two find themselves trapped in a dangerous underground world filled with dog-sized spiders and mutant beings who want to have the pair for supper. Fortunately, Sprout isn't a regular corgi; he also breathes fire, which comes in handy when facing down a dank cavern full of vicious beasties.

Korgi starts off as a placid idyll but shifts quite competently into a ripping little adventure, with all the odds quite stacked against the bounding Sprout and pointy-eared, bare-footed Ivy. Slade's black and white artwork is richly rendered, with a particular affinity for quick movement and background detail. Although the focus is primarily on the villagers and their corgi companions, we also see hints of other important creatures, like the gentle-seeming, dinosaur-looking creature who lumbers about in the distance, the massive toad-like thing grinning at Ivy from behind a tree, or the occasionally glimpsed flying saucers. It's that depth of imagination, not to mention the sense of humor that allows Slade to give a corgi dragon-like flame-throwing abilities (handy in a companion pet, no doubt), which keep Korgi from being just a cute-animal story and put it into more of a fairy tale realm. Ready for a plush toy the titular dog may be, but there's danger in these dark woods.

It would be wonderful to see what else Slade could do with his concept, as there's already potential here for a much wider world than he has already shown. However, given that this work was supposedly four years in the making, we may well have to just wait.

Korgi: Book One by Christian Slade
Top Shelf
ISBN: 1891830902
80 pages