Readers of The Lost Art

Dungeon Vol. 1: Duck Heart

March 4th, 2009

Writer: Lewis Trondheim.
Artist: Joann Sfar
Reviewer: Alex

Dungeon Vol. 1: Duck Heart

The concept of a huge labyrinthine dungeon, filled with a fearsome menagerie of vile monsters guarding priceless treasures which assorted heroes continually attempt to liberate, will be familiar to anyone versed in Fantasy genre tropes (particularly anyone who’s played the ‘Dungeon Keeper’ computer games). This setting is the starting point for Dungeon, from where Sfar and Trondheim launch a very funny and highly imaginative adventure story.

Despite its sprawling size, the Dungeon is well-organised under the control of the Dungeon Master, a cunning bird (all the non-monstrous cast are anthropomorphic animals) who runs the Dungeon efficiently. However, this state of affairs is threatened by some mysterious new monsters wanting to take over the Dungeon. A plan is made to counter this threat; unfortunately, clerical minion Herbert (a timorous anthropomorphic duck) makes an administrative error that results in responsibility for defeating the monsters falling to him. Being largely unheroic, Herbert is not suited to the task, but gets assistance from Marvin (a vegetarian dragon warrior). Thus, in classic style, they set off on a saga of exciting, if somewhat surreal, adventures…

What makes Dungeon such a pleasure to read is the fact that although Sfar and Trondheim touch on many of the familiar cliche of the Fantasy genre (and usually poke a bit of fun at them), Dungeon is not a spoof. It certainly has gags and numerous moments of comedy, but it works as a genuine adventure story, with a real sense of the fantastical as well as the absurd. Similarly, although the notions of the ‘unlikely hero’ and ‘mismatched buddies’, are very familiar, the characters of Herbert and Marvin feel fresh. Herbert (out of his depth but gradually growing in confidence) and Marvin (genuinely tough but principled) work well as a pairing and a focus for the story, and even amongst the bizarre creatures and daft jokes, there is room for some engaging character development.

At first glance, the cartoonish art might look (deceptively) a little unsophisticated. However, on closer inspection, it’s actually rather detailed, and, combined with an excellent colouring job, really brings the outlandish characters and locations to life. Furthermore, it’s the use of the cartoon style that allows the instances of violence and horror to be treated with a light comedic touch, which makes for some excellent moments of macabre hilarity and perfectly suits the tone of the story.

If you like a bit of the Tolkien malarkey but are looking for something a bit different, or alternatively, if you’re fond of indie comedy comics but secretly want something with goblin hordes in, then in either case, try Dungeon.

Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: NBM Publishing Company (1 Nov 2004)
Language: English
ISBN: 1561634018

(First published 27/07/2006.)

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