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edge staff writer


The weird wonder of ‘Rice Boy’

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As a book reviewer, a lot of requests come across your desk. There are so many talented people out there doing wonderful work – too many for one person to explore fully. There’s no doubt that some incredible opportunities have slipped by me.

But sometimes, you take a chance on the unknown and are rewarded with something stunning.

“Rice Boy” (Iron Circus Comics, $30) by writer/illustrator Evan Dahm was one such gamble for me. I knew nothing of Dahm’s work – “Rice Boy” started life as a webcomic over a decade ago and I had never heard of it. Dahm self-published a collection back in the day, but only now is the series receiving the full treatment from a more traditional publisher.

It’s … difficult to describe. “Rice Boy” a surreal experience both narratively and visually, simple on the surface, yet possessed of a deceptive complexity that lends the tale a remarkable depth. It is imaginative and inventive – whimsical one moment, malevolent the next – and immersive in an unexpected, unconventional way.

The titular hero is a simple fellow living in the land of Overside. Rice Boy lives an unexciting life, but is soon swept up into grand, paradigm-shifting intrigue. An immortal machine man known as TOE (short for “The One Electronic”) has big plans for Rice Boy; there’s an ancient prophecy whose heroic subject has been sought by TOE and his cohorts for thousands of years. Despite all appearances to the contrary, TOE believes Rice Boy to be the one to bring the revelatory conclusion to that prophecy.

And so Rice Boy is pulled from his mundane everyday existence and thrust into a world of weirdness and danger – a world he is largely unprepared for. He finds allies and makes enemies along the way as he travels the bizarre landscape of Overside in an effort to fulfill a destiny that he doesn’t fully understand. Bleach beasts and frog cults and gods that might not be gods at all; epic battles and tiny victories and surreal silliness – “Rice Boy” has all of it and more.

It’s not a particularly thorough synopsis – there’s plenty more story to tell – but one would almost do the work a disservice by telegraphing too much to the potential reader. It’s not about spoilers, per se – it’s the weird juxtaposition of the story’s simplicity and complexity (often in the same moment). It’s the sort of tale that resists a straightforward retelling.

That’s a good thing, by the way. A VERY good thing.

In “Rice Boy,” Evan Dahm has created a skewed, surreal take on the standard hero’s journey we often see in high fantasy and other genre fiction. He takes the standard trope of an unprepared protagonist thrown headlong into a world they don’t really comprehend and pumps it full of absurdity and ambiguity. The result is a story that is both compelling and emotionally engaging.

The visual storytelling is exquisite; Dahm has a unique and vivid aesthetic that lends itself beautifully to the type of tale being told. At first glance, there seems to be little rhyme or reason to the relative boldness or subtlety of the choices being made, but it isn’t long before the reader settles into the artistic ebb and flow, borne along gently (and sometimes not so gently) with the tidal forces of Dahm’s mesmerizing artwork.

Dahm has said that in many cases, he was inventing the story as he went along, introducing new characters and situations as the narrative required. That seat-of-the-pants method of story construction shouldn’t necessarily work, but in this case, it absolutely does. In fact, that shagginess serves to enhance the overall experience, giving the proceedings a sense of spontaneity that might not otherwise be present through a more rigidly defined creative process.

“Rice Boy” isn’t the sort of thing I would ordinarily actively seek out. It’s a work that could have easily slipped past me. I feel very lucky that it did not – it’s a weird, wonderful reading experience, a unique artistic expression that was worth every moment I spent with it. Evan Dahm is possessed of phenomenal gifts – gifts brought to bear on every page of the bizarre and beautiful “Rice Boy.”

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