Uku by Otto Germain, reviewed by Grant Thomas

Otto Germain’s website "Comic Wasteland" is far from a wasteland. It is chock full of a whole strange world that is one part Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; one part H. G. Wells, and one part Blade Runner on Prozac. Germain has a love of archaic technology such as steam engines and cotton gins and uses them as the backdrop to most of his stories. He has built an entire universe, complete with a creation myth and each story clearly fits into his grand scheme — which I suspect is mapped out in full in the basement of the bomb shelter where he cooks up all his ideas.

There are several comics on Comic Wasteland, including Soup (billed as "Amazing adventures in the primordial soup!"), The Pretentious History of Everything, and Rex Target: Freelance Zombie Hunter, but I think the real gem of the site is Uku which appears to be a bit of a departure from the mostly tongue-in-cheek, post-apocalyptic, steam punk stories featured on the website.

Each page of Uku has primitive hand prints and small icons that remind me of Australian Aboriginal Dreaming stories. The story in Uku is beautifully told in rich, full color paintings and without dialogue or sound effects. Each panel is oval shaped and the border fades into the black background of the page giving the reader the feeling of glimpsing into a misty crystal ball to read the story. This adds to the mystery of this strange world that Germain has put us into.

Two green-skinned creatures leave what appears to be their village and set out into a fog filled forest. While out exploring the forest they witness a shooting star crashing to earth and they run to the place where it has landed to investigate. The two creatures discover a perfectly round glowing ball with some mysterious markings on it. One creature picks it up and when the other asks to have a look at it, he is knocked backwards into the pit by the first creature.

The meteor appears to inspire greed in all who encounter it. At 22 pages into the story of Uku, the roles of the meteor has grown more mysterious yet as it lashes out against the creatures' village with some kind of statically charged ooze.

With no dialogue present in the story, Germain must rely on body language and facial expressions to flesh out his characters. I was especially impressed with the facial expressions during the sequence I just described, because Germain masterfully documents the change that comes over the creature that picks up the meteor. And while the comic is very atmospheric, the characters have very simple design and Germain executes these faces with a simplicity and economy of line that nevertheless fits into the lush painted world in which these creatures live.

From the moment I found this comic I simply had to keep clicking to see what’s next, yet Germain isn’t resorting to cheap cliffhangers to advance the story. Sometimes I had to read on just to see more of this mysterious world revealed.

I’m really looking forward to what Germain has to offer in the future with Uku and recommend it to anyone looking for great narrative storytelling and unconventional comics.