Artist Chris Campana has had the concept of First World rattling around inside his head for 20 years. The impetus started when at ten years old he saw his first Frank Frazetta painting. I know how he felt. Today, fantastic artwork is mundane, but when I saw my first Frazetta in the early 1970’s it blew me away. There was nothing like it then, and while he has many imitators, no one has since achieved the vistas of his dramatic work. Others may paint from imagination, but when looking at a Frazetta you get the impression he painted from life. Somehow, he peered into the fantastic worlds and painted what he saw.
No wonder that Frazetta left such an impression on young Chris. Of course, there was Conan, and other works of fantasy to inspire him. But, Frazetta…
After working as an artist for over 20 years, Chris decided to bring to life the world that had been percolating through his brain. His first foray in this place was Kantara, where he introduced characters and places that would later appear in First World. This series was published between 2012-2014 and Michael Radosti was the credited writer. As Chris explains: “It lasted 4 issues and then there were creative differences between myself and the writer and it ended. First World is an amalgamation of that story and another idea I had for a book.”
First World: The War of Souls, available from Comixology and Midtown Comics, among other places, is a fun if somewhat a dense read. In classic heroic fantasy, evil is coming and a hero must arise. The trick is to take that standard theme and weave something new and different. In Chris’ universe there are 12 Worlds, and an elder race that created the intelligent life to share their knowledge with those deemed worthy. Well, children do have a tendency of disappointing their parents, and the elder race brought down destruction. The wave of destruction was called the Noctem and was the embodiment of the “darkness in all of us.” Five champions arose who managed to defeat the darkness within to save the worlds.
Now, centuries later it would seem that the Noctem is back. Yet, nothing is really that simple. The War of Souls opens by introducing several characters all moving on what would appear to be separate courses. There is Arana who was orphaned and then raised by one of the elders. Their lives seem to consist of being chased by creatures of nightmare which Arana dispatches. Prince Minak, whose brother was kidnapped by Lord Orem. Rhis, whose story was told in Kantara. He was also kidnapped by Orem and then rescued by Serna and Candell. And then there are Lord Calro and Lord Orem. Both appear to be the villains, but both are driven by more than the desire to do evil. Before the threads are pulled together, unfortunately, the volume ends.
With both his words and art, Chris has created an interesting premise with a hint of the intrigue to come. He is interested not merely in the evil that men do, but “where we had a chance to be great, but as a people we fail.” All of life is “a test and we can make choices to be better than we were the day before. Unfortunately, too often, we fail the test and fall prey to the evil within us all.”
My initial reaction was that the book read like a prologue and Chris confirmed that: “Volume 1, the book is mostly setting the stage for volume 2.” If Volume 1 is the prologue, then clearly the First World saga is an ambitious project. At present all we’ve seen are characters in motion, and potential villains. However, their motives are not all that clear, and their relationship to each other is also unclear. While Chris is moving these characters along, this is no Wheel of Time where the premise is how a person reacts to his destiny as the Chosen One. Chris is more interested in choice not being chosen. Circumstances may be forced upon a person, but the measure is how they react to it and the choices that they make.
After this four issue compendium it is not clear where the story is heading, but I’m interested enough to go along for the ride. Chris has a KickStarter campaign going for Volume 2, and I donated to see just where he takes us.