No one seems to be sure exactly from whose deathbed it was uttered, but there's a famous and multiply-attributed theatrical quote that I always thought didn't quite go far enough.
I think it should be, 'Dying is easy, comedy is hard. And fantasy is IMPOSSIBLE.'
Those who choose the fantasy genre as their canvas have to be either insane or fearless. Like the other field which shares a common (and committed) audience, that of science fiction, there's always the danger of that Wile E. Coyote moment, when the principals are running on thin air, until the very moment they look down. That terrible moment when you realize you can't walk on a platform of dreams and wisps of smoke, and the ground is waiting to swallow you up at terminal velocity. That moment, when you suddenly stop thinking about the story and realize pointy ears really aren't all that evocative of alien-ness, or when you can't help laughing at the goofy faux-Nordic names you've given your characters' gods, or the ridiculous battle bikini you've given your leading lady, or that --damn, damn, damn--your horrifying hellspawn looks like a bad CGI joke.
Every writer of the fantastic has had that moment, I suspect, when you suddenly realize you've just produced something that can only be shown to and understood by the already converted. A random episode of any recent Star Trek series might well be both incomprehensible and hilarious to those who didn't grow up with Spock or Data. The Lord of the Rings films must have utterly baffled many filmgoers who hadn't read the books. And I've seen more than one superhero film reduce the audience to fits of uncomfortable giggles.
It's not like horror. Everyone's been afraid and everyone knows, secretly, that there really is a boogeyman. Nor is it like romance: everyone's been in love, or even better, in lust. But Science Fiction and Fantasy create something from nothing; they build their edifices purely out of spun ether and the goodwill of the audience. And the proof of what a difficult chore that really is can be defined more by the ever-increasing pile of carcasses of Those Who Failed, rather than the few meager successes.
The audience hasn't ever ridden a dragon, you see. They haven't had tea with badgers. They haven't defeated wintry despot queens for the soul of a loved one. There's no shared experience, no sensory memory to draw from.
Belief in the work isn't enough. Commitment to the work isn't enough. We've all seen sincere efforts hit the credibility wall and collapse in upon themselves.
And talent alone isn't enough. Beautiful but empty films and novels and comics are a dime a dozen.
I think what's needed is all those things, plus something else. A window into the human soul. Forget the walking trees and the talking cats. It's the human soul that is so essential to caring what happens in these never-were lands. When a gifted writer and a brilliant artist show you daring, or heartbreak, or loyalty--when they portray it just so, just exactly in the way that most moves us-- it's the understanding and empathy of our humanity that makes that connection possible, even if the character is a rabbit protecting its warren from an evil enemy rabbit general.
Tolkien infused his work with this...I often think that his surroundings ended up in the various races of his books: the wizards might represent the wise-but-absent-minded professors of his academic days, the hobbits and dwarfs the good natured and Earthly pleasure-loving working classes and so on. Tolkien despised the idea of his works being allegorical, but it's hard not to see post-war England all throughout his novels.
It's proven time and again: a great creator can show you something you know damn well is impossible, and twist and turn your heart like a fish on a line. In short, they not only make you gasp and weep, but they make you a collaborator in your own emotional turmoil. Congratulations: you forgot you were reading about rodents. You were the coyote, you looked down, and you're still floating high above the desert below. They showed you Narnia, Metropolis, Oz. They showed you something you know isn't there, but somehow, you find yourself dreading the end, because you don't want to leave.
This is where I think The Mice Templar is most remarkable. I can't recall the last fantasy-based graphic novel I read that was so literate, so charming, so thrilling and so ridiculously wonderful that it nearly defies description.
It's full of life, characters who are complex and fun, heroes to root for and care about, and darkly hideous things in the shadows. Everyone has a story and every story is told deftly and enviably emotively by Bryan Glass. He's chosen not to do amateur dives from poolside, but instead to do the writing equivalent of Olympic aqua-gymnastics from the high board. I haven't read anything else by him at this point, but I will give him perhaps the highest compliment I can give a writer...
That boy is a world-builder.
The art in this book--man, the art. I have the first collection in hardback. If I dared part with it (and if I had any friends), this would be the book I would give to friends who didn't "get" what comics and graphic novels could be like. It's stunning. There are pages that knock the wind out of me on my fifth and sixth readings. I wouldn't have thought that anyone could keep up with the art of the series' original artist and co-creator Michael Oeming.
I have no idea where they found just the people to do that. Victor Santos, with color artist Veronica Gandini, are every bit the high-wire artists that the series' creators are. Thumb through this book, and you see gorgeously scary scenes of isolation and fear, followed immediately by airy and ethereal water-color imagery from dazzling perspectives. It's a bravura performance, and in lesser hands, well, let's just say the coyote would have met the ground in a manner most unpleasant. Add in ridiculously beautiful and evocative double-page spreads, and wrap it in museum-worthy covers by Oeming himself--it's a little sinful, really. It's so pretty, it feels like it should be bad for your health.
Finally, Mice Templar has a delightfully Earthy, lusty, and sometimes bloody quality that differentiates it quite nicely from other anthropomorphic tales, and gives it and emotional heft that socks you in the gut and leaves you gasping with surprising consistency. There's a lot of courage in these pages, and speaking as a fellow comics creator who knows a tough gig when she sees it, there's a lot of courage BEHIND the pages, too.
Lunatics or daredevils, thanks for making Mice Templar, guys. It is the good, good stuff.