Buy This Book: Katie Longua’s ‘Rok’
On paper, Katie Longua's Rök might not sound like it's going to be good. It is, after all, a comic starring a fictionalized version of the character's roommate and her magical destiny, full of inside jokes about homework and things said roommate carries around in her purse. I mean, seriously, I've read enough comics that "It's about me and my friends but as superheroes" is a gigantic red flag that usually scares me off toute de suite. The thing is, when Longua set about telling that exact story, she somehow managed to make it super fun.
Of course, it probably doesn't hurt that she calls it "the manliest magical girl comic around," and that the contents of her roommate's purse are "two knives and mace."
The premise of Rök is that the Norse gods have lost their final battle and been cast out of Asgard by Loki, landing on Earth in a significantly depowered form. Robbed of their godly abilities and the worshippers that they need to really get things going to mount a counterattack, they do exactly what you'd expect a bunch of vikings to do: They form a death metal band and use the energy of their dedicated fans to regain their godhood.
That's where Elaine, the character based on Longua's roommate, comes in. She goes to see a show that, of course, gets attacked by Fenrir. Odin gets killed and Elaine ends up getting possessed by Odin's hurdy-gurdy, giving her the ability to transform into a burly, horn-helmeted viking version of herself to fight against the bad guys. For the record, Longua also appears herself, but has too much homework to join in on any adventures.
It's a pretty simple premise, but Longua knocks it out of the park with her clean, expressive cartooning, giving everything this big, slapstick weight to it that reminds me more of a show like Dexter's Laboratory or The Powerpuff Girls than anything else, just with all those sharp Tartakovsky and McCracken angles replaced by circles and speed lines. It's fun to read, and it's exactly the kind of thing that I keep an eye out for at conventions.
The one big flaw to it is that it feels a little thin -- as dense as Longua makes her action scenes, there's not a whole lot that actually happens in the first two issues, which total up as 40 pages of comics that are mostly devoted to setting things up for future adventures. That said, that's ameliorated pretty thoroughly by the fact that you can grab both issues for as little as one dollar. Rök #1 and #2 are available as digital downloads on Gumroad, with the first one as a pay-what-you-want title and the second for $1 or more. That's a deal that's almost impossible to pass up, if only because you get to check things out absolutely free (although it's worth noting that the .cbr version of #1 has the pages out of sequence, which leads to a pretty confusing first read).
For the more print-minded among you, Rök #1 - 4 are also available at Longua's website as physical issues for $5 each. If you like magical girls, vikings or the hurdy-gurdy, it's definitely one to grab. And if you like all three of those things in equal measure, well, you're probably in this comic already.