Cascadia by Clio Chiang, reviewed by Matt Trepal

The great Yin/Yang of comics is Art and Story. Can a comic have one without the other and still be considered a quality comic? If a perfect balance between the two cannot be achieved, can the lesser factor at least refrain from becoming a hindrance to the comic? This is a delicate operation, one that may require extra work on the part of the creator to pull off. Cascadia, created by Clio Chiang, has pretty artwork, but zen or no, her writing could use a bit of direction.

The story of Cascadia is focused on a quest to recover seals used to protect the world from a demon. As the story opens, the demon has been unleashed; a small group is dispatched, and the mage Connor and his paladin Aron soon join with the bandit Jacob to seek out and recover the seals and return the demon to its eldritch prison… ‘Before It’s Too Late’(tm).

The quest theme is common in many forms of literature, so it is not specifically this that flaws Chiang�s writing. Instead, there seems to be a distinct lack of causality in the strip � events do not have causes, occurring merely to propel the plot. For example, early on in the story the ground opens up, then just as suddenly closes again, trapping one of the party underground. No explanation is given as to why this happens, or how (although it is strongly implied that magic is at work), but as Jacob makes his way through the caverns he finds himself in, he encounters a Buerra, one of the denizens of the Underworld, who is able to provide him with a clue towards the recovery of one of the seals he and his companions are seeking.

This is just all too convenient. Who caused the Earth to split open? How? Why? The characters show only a perfunctory interest regarding these questions, and when they receive an answer, cryptic as it is, they don�t follow up. In general, the characters don�t seem to be paying much attention. While camped in a swamp and surrounded by potentially hostile Quiri Monkeys, Jacob behaves in an unconscionably reckless manner, and threatens their mission. Later, in the city of Kuandu, Aron fails to recognize that the waitress serving him and Jacob is his cousin Karah until after the innkeeper mentions her name.

As the meeting with the Buerra was an opportunity for exposition but not really an engagement, the provocation of the Quiri Monkeys is a contrived device that leads to an even more belabored challenge and the meeting with Karah, immediately after the surprisingly passionless loss of Connor (or not; it�s too soon to tell, but I have my suspicions) is a convenient coincidence. These adventurers face surprisingly little in terms of what could even be loosely called a "challenge." Not that there isn�t some difficulty involved, but the pieces to their puzzle fall into place with alarming ease.

Cascadia�s art is reminiscent of animation cels, particularly those of films such as Anastasia or The Iron Giant. Chiang has a good idea of how the human body moves, and can clearly portray emotion through facial expressions. She also uses different angles well, and has developed some innovative page designs.

Clio Chiang obviously has talent. Her lushly rendered, full-page art presents a definite "hook" to the reader, something to draw them in. Once they are there, however, it is up to the writing to keep them, to make them care about what happens to the characters and their story. The general idea of a quest, while hardly original, is by no means a fatal flaw, and Chiang adds enough variety to the basic premise to make Cascadia unique. At the present time, though, there are just too many plot holes and coincidences to make the story believable.

Cascadia is only slightly off-balance, and its wobble can be corrected. The overabundance of serendipity and coincidence and the thick-headedness of the characters are retarding the progress of an otherwise fine fantasy tale. With a little more attention, both on the part of the characters and their creator, a little more recognition of cause-and-effect, and a little more struggle, Cascadia may fly as straight and true as one of Jacob Arman’s arrows.