At the beginning of the year, I decided to make a concerted effort to Read All the Comics that my buddies have been raving about for years. When I was young, comics didn’t interest me much (and were difficult to access in our small MS town); when I was older, I simply didn’t have time to devote to catching up due to massive amounts of required reading. Anyway, among the comics that I put on the TBR list for the year was Rat Queens, and when I got to the series, I gobbled them up.
Rat Queens is an ongoing comic book series created by Kurtis Wiebe and published by Image Comics; the series has been running since September 2013, and its eleventh issue was released today. The comics have been nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series; the first collection was nominated for a Hugo Award; and in 2015, the series won the GLAAD Media Award.
Unfortunately, the series ran into a bit of trouble in 2014 when the original illustrator, Roc Upchurch, was arrested on domestic violence charges. Wiebe issued a statement on his blog, and Upchurch was removed from the publication. Stjepan Sejic took over as artist for the series, but fell ill and was only able to draw a few issues. Most recently, artist Tess Fowler and colorist Tamara Bonvillain have taken over illustrations for the series.
The fantasy story revolves around the Rat Queens, a group of four female mercenaries in a small medieval (mostly) town: Violet (a dwarven warrior), Hannah (an elven mage), Dee (a human cleric), and Betty (a smidgen thief). The girls are rowdy, foul-mouthed, and buckets of fun.
The first 5-issue story arc revolves around an attempted assassination of the town’s mercenaries, while the second story arc (also 5 issues) focuses on a quest to keep an ancient god from being summoned and annihilating the townspeople. There’s also a special issue from January 2015 (Fowler’s first involvement with the series) that gives the backstory for Braga, leader of another mercenary group called the Peaches.
Given that the story has such a large Dungeons and Dragons and RPG influence, I was dubious about it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you—it’s just that I’ve never really been good at playing RPGs. But my, am I glad this story a chance.
The characters are multi-dimensional….not to mention diverse. There are different sexual orientations, races (and not just fantasy races—Rat Queen Dee is a WoC), classes, religions, and body types among the characters. Violet wears full armor, and both she and Dee rebel against cultural norms. The four girls are friends, good friends, and we learn a lot about them through the lens of their relationships with one another. That’s a rare enough thing for it to be really special. There’s a lot of crass humor, jackassery, and goriness—-and it’s fun to see four BAMF women at the center of that.
So why should you read Rat Queens?
- The story is nostalgic, original, and funny. Wiebe has said that the story is a “love letter” to his years playing D&D, and he once described the series as “Lord of the Rings meets Bridesmaids.” Also, there are excellent insults to be had in those pages.
- The characters are diverse and complex. Violet ruminates on the beard she shaved, an unheard of, bold move in her home culture. Dee is an atheist cleric. There are LGBT characters and women of color, and they don’t take background seats.
- It’s beautiful. Even with Upchurch’s removal from the series, there has been a consistent emphasis on design, both of characters and of the page itself. Facial expressions are a delight, as are the gory battle scenes and the (relatively) quieter moments in the Rat Queen’s home.
- There’s going to be a TV series. It’s going to be animated, and I’m sure it will be glorious. Better read the books first, though!
And now, I’m off to find that new Rat Queens issue myself and give it a peak.