Rowlf (1971)

Rowlf  1971 5ec8ea9b77a340439f8944dac26f324e

Rowlf is the story of a very good dog named Rowlf who does not play the piano but is devoted to his owner, the fair maiden Maryara. Maryana’s sort of royalty, just of an impoverished land. So her best suitor ends up being a twerp who wants to assume command and lead the land to a more prosperous future. It’s never clear how, but it involves a similarly twerpy wizard, Sortrum.

The suitor, Raymon, is convinced the dog doesn’t like him—we never find out whether Raymon’s right in the first place; Rowlf definitely knows what’s up later, but creator Richard Corben tells it like a fable, never really centering on Rowlf. Not even after he’s turned into a bipedal humanoid dog creature.

See, bad demon guys—who speak Esperanto—come in their tanks and kidnap Maryana. She sends Rowlf to get Raymon and her father to come save her, but instead of following Rowlf to the well, Ramon convinces his future father-in-law they need to kill the beast. Well, first, they need to magic him into a human so they can interrogate him, then they’re going to kill him. Presumably. Raymon’s not a great planner.

Unfortunately for Raymon, the invaders’ next stop is the palace, which is in the same shelling range as the wizard’s lair, and Sortrum screws up the spell. Rowlf doesn’t become a full human, just a dog-man with opposable thumbs and a lot more intelligence. Both are going to come in handy as he decides it’s up to him to save Maryana. So it’s a dog-man versus demon soldiers in tanks with a couple slimeballs trying to steal the kingdom if he can rescue the princess.

Corben does a great job balancing the strangeness of settings and details—there’s fantasy for the sorcerer and princess and sort of the demons, there’s the war comic stuff, then there’s the man-shaped dog hero. The art’s exquisite, with lots of dark shadows, which lend to these deep panels, whether foreground and background action or just Corben’s cheesecake on the princess.

The third act of the story is a three-page fight scene with ten or eleven panels a page. The visual pacing is outstanding.

The resolve is as satisfactory as it’s going to get for such a star-crossed romance; Corben maintains the fable-ish narration well, occasionally using a couple long paragraphs to move things along. And the imagery with the tanks is just astounding. The fantasy aspects are more obviously impressive; the tank odyssey is quieter but better. It’s somehow the touchstone in the fantastic story, as Rowlf is a stranger to it as well.

It’s gorgeous; great comic.

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