Folklords #2 follows Ansel, the fantasy comic’s human protagonist, and Archer, his elf friend, as they go out of their village and into the woods in search of the titular Folklords.
Jim Campbell (letterer), Matt Kindt (writer), Chris O’Halloran (colorist), Matt Smith (artist)
December 18th, 2019
Archer, however, unlike Ansel, isn’t from their village. Not originally anyway. In my review of the first issue, I predicted that the series would “approach race through a binary fantasy paradigm,” and I was very nearly right. I had guessed that humans and elves would be grouped together against monsters. Instead, it’s a binary of humans and non-humans. In what I imagine is supposed to come across as a charming analogue to real-world racist and xenophobic microaggressions, Ansel asks Archer, “Where are you from originally?” Then he earnestly adds in the same speech bubble, “Is that rude to ask?”
As much as Folklords wants to subvert its genre, the series reinforces it by relying on—not upending—tropes like curses. Archer readily supplies his own backstory: seemingly abandoned as an infant, he was adopted by a pair of poor, elderly humans. Instead of being a blessing, Archer was a curse. His mother dies, and his father commits suicide.
When I saw the preview for this issue, and particularly the panel in which Archer’s father’s feet dangle, framing a young Archer’s half-silhouette, I found myself asking: who is the audience for this comic? After reading the issue, I’m not entirely sure the creative team knows. Worse, this two-page sequence is taking up a lot of real estate in a twenty-two-page issue of a five-issue series. It also drops in mention of Unreal Estate Agents, as if Folklords didn’t have enough ideas competing with each other for precedence between Ansel, his friends, the Librarians, the other world, the narrator, and the Folklords themselves.
In pursuit of those Folklords, Archer and Ansel arrive at a fork in the road. They can take the easy road or the road through the enchanted forest. It’s hard not to read this scene as a metaphor for this series: superficially taking the “riskier” choice. They choose the seemingly more difficult path because fairy tale logic would have them take the easy road. (What they fail to account for is how in any number of stories the seemingly safer path is actually much more difficult to travel than the obviously dangerous one.) Neither of these routes and none of the places in this comic have proper names. I’m not sure I can call any of Smith and O’Halloran’s backgrounds worldbuilding if Kindt and Campbell don’t give names to the places they depict. Ansel and Archer are followed into the enchanted forest by Demure, who is then followed by—I’m going to guess—the Librarian who let them defect from the village in the first place, ostensibly as set-up for a future issue.
In the forest, Ansel and Archer cross paths with two women. The first is designed to be read as ugly, muscular and tall as she is. Unprovoked, Archer draws his slingshot and hits her with a rock, after which Ansel offers her pie. Having made her justifiably angry, they run. Archer is swept up by tree limbs while Ansel is swept up by the woman, who proceeds to kiss him without his consent. Afterwards, Ansel asks her, “Are you a—a princess or something?” As if her looking for a man to kiss her into something other than what she is justifies her actions, presuming that there is something wrong with how she looks to begin with. Again, like the earlier instance of Ansel asking Archer where he’s from, difference is rendered into a punchline by a protagonist who is supposed to be different from the world around him.
They escape and happen upon the other woman, Greta. Greta, unlike the first woman, is feminine, petite, and pretty. Telling Greta about the first woman they met in the forest, Archer misgenders her. Ansel disagrees, but doesn’t correct Archer’s use of masculine pronouns to describe her. It isn’t meant to be some egregious error in the story’s world, but it is one on behalf of the creative team. They cannot take advantage of how misogyny and transphobia work in our world and not imagine the consequences of those things in their fantasy one. If this is a story about not judging others by their appearances, it is one that could have easily been resolved in twenty-two pages, not left as a cliffhanger for the next issue to potentially reveal that the pretty girl is evil and the ugly woman is good, which is a cliché in itself. If that is how this plotline is resolved, then Folklords is, once again, reinforcing binary tropes instead of upending them.
Kindt, Smith, O’Halloran, and Campbell’s Folklords wants so badly to be different, but they don’t understand what it means to be different.