From the minute we saw the spectacular cover for Curtis Clow and Pius Bak’s Slightly Exagerated on Kickstarter we had the feeling this was going to be a rather special comic. However now we have had the chance to read the whole thing was that expectation justified or was it’s promise of quality… slighty exaggerated!
We discovered Curtis’ work via the excellent Beastlands and The Wild Cosmos last year, and Slightly Exaggerated feels like a very similar piece – at least in terms of tone and style – albeit one which is a huge step up in terms of quality. Our heroine, Mia is an archaeologist and explorer – or if you believer her toad like sidekick, she is more of a mean thief and grave-robber! We start the adventure off with her discovering a lost object only to be chased out of there by natives – which is all very Indiana Jones. After a late night rendezvous with a friendly traveller she is picked up by the authorities who aren’t too happy with he stealing ways, only to have her journey to prison interrupted by some disgruntled locals who want their artefact back.
As you can tell from that synopsis there is definitely a heavy nod to Indy in there – or at the very least the pulp serials which inspired Dr Jones as well. However it is much more than a carbon copy of our favourite fedora wearing adventurer. Mia is a fantastic lead and having her as a strong female lead, really works well. Curtis seems to revel in using the classic male hero tropes, such as her convenient seduction of someone in order to get a dry bed for the night, and then applying them to his female lead. But it’s more than just a simple gender cliche swap, as he also makes her vulnerable and flawed, by giving her a mysterious illness which is cutting short her life. This helps to give her an even further devil may care attitude that amplifies her rebel spirit, but also a depth to her character which explains some of her reckless behaviour.
While the story in this opening chapter may be a bit trad – roguish hero gets pursued by various establishment forces – it is the world building and visuals which Clow and Bak have developed which really helps make this book stand out. While this is brilliantly exemplified by the outrageous flying sea creatures or giant cat sculptures on the opening pages, what really stood out of us was the phenomenal detail in every panel – it reminded us of the wonderful Porcelain in that way, and there is no higher praise in our books.
In a recent interview Curtis mentioned how much Studio Ghibl was an influence on him and you can definitely see that in the way the creatures are taken out of their normal habitat and given this magical and ethereal quality – and that you have to completely suspend logic in order to make it work. There is also a gentle stillness to these creatures and also the landscape of the piece – which fell almost Tolkien-like at times – although that may be her pipe smoking which reminded us of Gandalf! The book also has elements of the 1930s with airships and pirates, which is a further nod back to those pulp serials.
For us though, the real stand out of the issue is the colours. Whether it is the warm yellows of the stones, or greenish hue to the sky it has a vintage tone to it, which makes it feel more like something from the 70s than the 21st century. It gives the whole thing a glorious retro quality (reminding us of the wonderful Stranski in places), as well as some classic Marvel from the Bronze Age, and it make the whole thing really exceptional.
With a wonderful high peril cliffhanger to round things odd, Slightly Exagerated is every bit as good as we hoped it would be, based on the preview we saw during the Kickstarter campaign. This is a fantastically fun and really enjoyable first issue that manages to blend pulp action and glorious sci-fi fantasy to make something really special. And we definitely aren’t exaggerating at all when we say that!