FLAWLESS pacing, whimsical and magical characters, a healthy dose of humour and a gorgeous, smooth, silky style make Adam Vian's Long Lost Lempi a must-buy for any fan of independent comics.
I stopped in my tracks the first time I saw his beautiful artwork across the room at this year's Lakes Comic Art Festival.
I was utterly captivated by the open pages he had on display, suckered in by my own natural affinity for black and white comics and truly impressed with the amount of story on each meticulously crafted page.
As I told Adam at the time, I was sold on the spot, but that didn't stop me from being nicely surprised when I actually sat down to read the three issues I bought from him that day.
Timeless, charming and eccentric, each character that takes to Long Lost Lempi's stage has a clear, distinctive voice, making Vian's vibrant world even more colourful than a lot of his 'full colour' contemporaries.
Vian sets out the stall for his main character, the capricious Lempi, on the front cover of Volume I, peppering it with images of our heroine sporting a range of emotions and attitudes and doing what she does best, which is clearly what she likes when she likes it, and wearing her heart well and truly on her sleeve while she does it.
And in this we see one of the most potent and magnificently wielded tools in Vian's, not insubstantial arsenal, a knack for expressive body language.
With simple, stylised, strong lines, each character speaks in ways only their words never could, through posture, facial expressions and behaviours, with Lempi herself, often bustling in and out of panels, grabbing at things she wants, poking at the things that interest her, leaping onto boats to dance, or even flinging herself dramatically on the ground when exasperated.
Lempi's tales often have a lively animated quality to them, with set pieces bringing the pages to life - so when Lempi dances with a mermaid in Issue I, or when she describes one of her companions to the crew of the ship in Issue II so they can draw her - we are carried along with the rhythym of the moment almost like a musical number in a Disney film.
Nods to other fairy tale worlds are made throughout Long Lost Lempi - with mermaids, genies and a circus taking centre stage at different times - but it is perhaps never more evident than when we meet the crew of Issue II's ship, a friendly talking duster, sword and bucket, recalling much-loved supporting cast members Lumiere, Mrs Potts and Cogsworth, from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
Vian adds further rich layers to his stories by employing his deceptively simple, and very eloquent art style, to draw us into each new location and setting, furnishing them beautifully - the shells on Issue I's tower, the interior of Issue II's ship or Issue III's submarine - allowing his world to come to life as it weaves its gentle spell on the reader.
If Issue I is a warm, affable introduction to the characters of Long Lost Lempi and the world they inhabit, Issue II is a tour-de-force where that world explodes, introducing a level of threat and tension in the form of the malevolent, bully of a genie, so wonderfully rendered (in both art and dialogue) I almost found myself rooting for him.
Issue III takes things a step further again, growing the cast substantially and even splitting up our three main characters.
In a lesser cartoonist, this could have been a problem, but Vian's plotting is deft and his characters so distinctive the story retains its pace and focus with relative ease, reaching its resolution neatly and artfully.
And thereing lies another element of why Long Lost Lempi works so well: Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end and they rarely deviate from that path, giving a roundness to the stories that a lot of more seasoned writers could learn from.
Mostly though, Long Lost Lempi is funny. It has a humour which is both warm and charming. The jokes, and indeed the internal logic of the characters and their world, are often surreal, but with an almost childlike logic that is just so endearing - three knocks on a rooftop hatch means thankyou, obviously, but who on earth knows what the knocks for "we're trapped on your roof," might be.
Like the humour, resolutions to Long Lost Lempi's stories are often off kilter, but always make absolute sense.
People learn to compromise and to work together, they find solutions in each other, and that gives the stories a warmhearted and generous feeling that many writers go looking for, but that Vian seems to come by naturally.
I can't help but declare myself a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Long Lost Lempi, and hope very much, that we have just seen the start of the cast's adventures. I have space on my bookshelf for a lot more and will eagerly anticipate the next volume.
Vian announced on Twitter recently that his next foray into comics would be something different, releasing the teaser title cards below as an indication of what we can expect.
I'll be first in line to buy it as soon as I can, but at the same time, I'll be hugely looking forward to the day I hold the next adventure of Melisse, Ermin and Lempi in my hands.
You can find Adam Vian in a number of places online: On Twitter @SFBDim, on Tumblr at AdamVian.Tumblr.com and at his own site LongLostLempi.com.