Since their first wave of comics hit the world back in 2018, TKO has continued to bring us a select but awe-inspiring series of comic titles. With their latest raft of titles heading in a new and exciting direction, we check out Djeliya, a fantasy story based on many African folklore stories by new creator Juni Ba.
Set in a world decimated after the destructive actions of a mysterious sorcerer, Djeliya follows the journey of Awa and Mansour, a Djeli (musically attuned guide) and the fallen Prince of a lineage now lost, as they seek to enter the tower of the world destroyer Saromanor? to save him under the request of his aide. However, as the trio make this perilous journey, stories are told which reveal not the state of their respective lives as well as that of the world at large. But with a former nemesis attempting to usurp the power of the world destroyer, can Awa and Mansour reach the tower first and gain an audience with this ‘God’ who resides there, and are they prepared for what they may find?
Juni Ba’s first comic is a tremendous read. Quirky and enthralling, Djeliya is a wonderful all ages story, which has both an epic, but personal feel to it as it progresses. Ba succeeds in creating a tale that feels incredibly thought provoking, as it both subtly, and overtly asks very deep societal questions regarding the aspects of power. This is done through the characters of Awa and Mansour, who are both incredibly engaging and sympathetic characters. Neither being perfect, but willing to learn and push on to do what is right regardless of their obstacles.
The flow of the title reminded us a bit of a Tarantino movie, in the way that the story frequently departs the main narrative for a flashback. With these told in a storytelling format which is a nice contrast to the present day parts. While this seems a little jarring when it first occurs, this actually turns out to be a terrific way to provide exposition, add levity to a dark story and allow readers a moment to refocus and catch up.
If there is one part of Djeliya which we struggled with, it was the use of cultural references in the story which were not immediately obvious to us. While we are not saying this as a negative, it did impact our reading of the story. But fortunately Ba has included a fantastic array of back matter to cap off this book that helped increase our understanding of everything – but we wonder if it might’ve helped our initial experience by providing some of this at the front?
As for the art, Juni Ba provides a style so unique that I don’t think I’ve ever seen another comic like it. (It’s mix of folklore and magical fantasy reminded us a bit of Gamayun Tales – Ed) However, it is a style that feels reminiscent of, and imbues the look of, traditional tribal art – albeit with a comic booky twist which gives it a feeling of it coming to life within the sequentials. The layouts eschew traditional comic layouts with something a little more combined and immersive. This does result in giving Djeliya a sense of chaos in its nature which feels natural for the world it is set in, although it does make things a little difficult to follow on occasion.
All in all, Djeliya is an incredible fantasy story and a real highlight in TKO’s already impressive back catalogue. Juni Ba’s debut comic is a gorgeous, addictive and, above all, inspiring read and if you could only buy one comic in your life then this could quite possibly be it.