Johnnie Christmas (Writer and Artist), Tamra Bonvillain (Colorist)
March 7, 2018
Firebug, created by Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain and originally published in Brandon Graham and Emma Rios’ comics magazine Island, gets a second chance on the shelves in a collected trade paperback. I had very high expectations for this comic; being a ‘firebug‘ myself (I feel like that’s my new sexy way of saying “ginger”) I was personally invested prior to opening and thankfully I was not disappointed.
We are introduced to the Goddess of the Fiery Mountain. She embodies the fire and lava that rests in the volcano, and she’s worshipped by the people of Azar. The goddess gives birth to a beautiful daughter that is the heir to her spirited throne. One day the Goddess of the Fiery Mountain secludes herself in exile, and she’s protected by The Cult of the Goddess while she is kept in a secret place. The Goddess’s people lose faith in her and doubt she will ever return, so they create a new city at the foot of the volcano.
We follow Keegan who ran away from The Cult of the Goddess to help a fringe extremist group—Third Wave—that’s devoted to freeing the goddess. Keegan develops a relationship with Griffin, who’s the kind of degenerate boyfriend that we see on TV and know in real life. You know, the one that leaves you when things are becoming stagnant, or when a new romance comes along. This is a problem because he’s dating the head of the extremist group, Adria. The three try to coexist and work together but jealousy gets the better of them. As a peace offering, Keegan gives Adria the missing goddess’s location and helps develop a plan to find her and release her. But Griffin finds a way to screw it up. Spoiler Alert: Griffin’s impulsive act to kill the Goddess reveals that Keegan is, in fact, the daughter of the fire goddess.
The characters and story have to live up to big expectations. The story is about becoming your own person, and learning how to deal with the people around you. It’s a shame that the goddess had such a brief (but passionate) moment because she felt the most grounded and believable. She’s the imperfect god that I envision if such a thing is possible. What makes this story appetizing for me is Keegan’s journey through all this. Despite what’s going on around Keegan, her character remains strong and a force to be reckoned with.
The sequential storytelling by Johnnie Christmas is top notch. It’s hard to divert your attention from the gorgeous landscapes and attractive characters. His handling of the elements encourages the mood, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Every panel has an extreme level of detail. Each character is beautiful and fashionably tasteful. It’s odd to see these grungy punks on such a beautiful island at the base of a volcano, yet it works!
Tamra Bonvillain is the colorist as a master storyteller. Her work demands your attention. Each page gives you a sense of what the world is about, and it’s explained through color. She makes you feel the world’s earth, fire, wind and water, she does it so effortlessly. Letterist Ariana Maher does an exemplary job in this book. Maher’s stylized tail balloons dance and sound effects scream off each page.
I’m glad that Firebug was re-released following its publication in the Eisner-nominated anthology Island. You didn’t get the whole story then. It almost reads better in this self-contained trade paperback. It was sweet, sweet eye candy in the original robust format, but this story deserves another shot, and this expanded collection might find a whole new audience that usually wouldn’t buy an anthology.
For those of you that are hip to social media, you notice that Johnnie Christmas’s Twitter profile states “More cool stuff to come in 2018 …” If Firebug is any indication of what 2018 might bring, then he and Tamra Bonvillain should be on your radar.