Finding Epic Fantasy Comics
By John Ottinger III
I love epic fantasy, always have. After my father read me Tolkien as a young boy, bought me Stephen Lawhead for Christmas, and took me to the library to peruse the bookshelves, I have always been drawn to the stories that contain secondary worlds full of magic, myth and legend.
But I like comics too, and sadly, it has always been rather hard to find epic fantasy comics. Most comics tended to be of the superhero variety in the vein of Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and X-Men. Even the comics that are built on mythology such as Wonder Woman or Thor, have most of their storylines set in the present day.
But though it has been difficult to find epic fantasy comics, it is not impossible. Here are a few I have found:
One of the easiest places to find epic fantasy comics is to find adaptations of epic fantasy novels. Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Series, Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker, George R. R. Martin’s short stories of The Hedge Knight set in his NYT bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series, Robert Silverberg’s The Seventh Shrine and Robert Jordan’s New Spring and Wheel of Time were all adapted by the Dabel Brothers, beginning in 2001. After Dabel announced its partnership with Marvel in 2006, more and more of the books of these authors have been adapted are fairly easy to find at most major bookstores. Dabel has also produced an adaptation of the novel The Highwayman by R. A. Salvatore in partnership with Del Rey.
Devil’s Due Publishing has also produced a comic adaptation of R. A. Salvatore’s DemonWars Saga and has worked with Wizards of the Coast to produce Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance adaptations featuring some of the most famous characters from those shared worlds from the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game.
Robert E. Howard, the father of sword and sorcery has been almost continuously adapted. Conan the Barbarian become a comic in 1970 with Marvel, but since 2003 has been produced by Dark Horse Publishing. Howard’s character Kull the Conqueror is also a comic produced by Dark Horse. Dark Horse also recently release new comic adaptations of Michael Moorcock’s sword and sorcery tales of Elric one of the most well-liked anti-heroes ever.
DC Comics has also been creating adaptations. Their World of Warcraft series of comic books are some of the most popular on the market today.
The adaptation has always been my favorite method of finding epic fantasy comics. It is quick, it is easy, and you are pretty much going to know whether you will like the book or not.
But adaptations are not new stories. More than likely, you may have already read the book, and so will be dissatisfied that you are not getting something original. If that is the case, here are some other places you might look.
Red Sonja was a character created by Robert E. Howard for his Conan stories. I chose to include her in this section because Howard only used her as an incidental character, but Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith took that character, remade her, and gave Sonja her own comic aptly title Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword. She is still makes regular appearances in the Conan stories. Red Sonja is published by Dynamite Entertainment.
Sojourn was a comic series by the now defunct CrossGen. It told the story of a blond-haired, longbow wielding beauty seeking justice for her murdered family and was written by Ian Edgington and drawn by Ron Marz. Sadly, CrossGen went out of business before the story was complete. Checker Book Publishing Group released the previously unreleased comics in trade paperback form, but even their releases did not finish the story. I still hole out hopes that eventually we might see the end of this story, but I don’t recommend buying it just yet.
The Warlord is a sword and sorcery comic book that began in 1975 that has maintained a continuous publication from DC Comics since its creation by Mike Grell. This particular fantasy comic is great because the publisher has worked hard to continue the pulp look of the original artwork into onto the present day, and the comic is easily recognizable. Also significant is the fact that this comic can still be found in most comic book shops, unlike many other epic fantasy type comic books.
DC also produces Elfquest which began in 1978 and is still being written. Though there were many storylines and characters, ElfQuest began with telling the story of Cutter, his tribe the Wolfriders, and their quest to find and unite other groups of elves against the threat of humans, trolls, and other assorted nasties. Elfquest is pure epic fantasy, and is highly enjoyable for its excellent art and intriguing storylines. All of the comics through 2008 can be read for free at ElfQuest.com.
Artesia, written and illustrated by Mark Smylie and published by Archaia Entertainment, is the beginning of an epic fantasy story, The Book of Dooms, following one woman on a journey of war and magic. Artesia left her home in the Middle Kingdoms after her mother was burned at the stake as a witch, and she has found refuge in the Highlands of Daradja and remade herself as a concubine, a priestess, a warrior and war captain. She now walks a dangerous path surrounded by jealous overlords, enemy witch-hunters, invading armies, dread gods, the ghosts of the dead, and ancient evils out of myth and legend. I have not seen this book in print, but I’ve heard it is enjoyable.
Archaia Entertainment is not a one-hit wonder or vanity press. They also produce the New York Times bestselling Mouse Guard, a comic by David Peterson that is an original story similar to Brian Jacques or Watership Down. In Mouse Guard, mice struggle to live safely and prosper among all of the world's harsh conditions and predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed. They are not simply soldiers that fight off intruders; rather, they are guides for commonmice looking to journey without confrontation from one hidden mouse village to another. The comics are titled by season and date so readers move through time at the same speed as the characters. It is both a clever and unusual comic book series that has even spawned its own role-playing game. Mouse Guard is sold widely and is very easy to find at bookstores and online.
Devashard is an Asian based brand new epic fantasy comic being produced by Fluid Comics. DevaShard chronicles the life of a radiant son robbed of his birthright and plunged into a land gripped by darkness. In this vivid world of magical beasts, mighty gods and cursed daemons the hero must look deep within himself to find the strength he desperately needs if he is to survive the evil threatening to extinguish him. I’ve never read this series, but it looks interesting, and you can download a free preview at their website.
And of course, readers always have the option to go online to find fantasy webcomics. There are lots our there, some good some bad. You can browse some at Fantasy Adventure Webcomics site. Goblins is one of the most popular webcomics on the internet and has an epic fantasy theme. Wayfarer’s Moon is another popular epic fantasy webcomic with excellent artwork. Epic Fail is an oft visited satiric epic fantasy written by Amy Letts. TVTropes.org has a list of fantasy webcomics that have achieved some notability that includes many epic fantasy comics. The page has short descriptions of the comics that make it easy to find comics suited to your taste.
Ultimately, though it takes some work, it is possible to find epic fantasy comics both in print and online. Since superhero comics dominate the comic book shops, Barnes and Nobles and Borders, you may be forced online at Amazon or direct from the publisher to buy the comics, but you can find them. Hopefully this post has given you a few places to start looking.
John Ottinger’s reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, Fantasy Magazine, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Strange Horizons, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com. He is a columnist for the Hugo Award winning Electric Velocipede and is the proprietor of the premier SF&F review blog Grasping for the Wind.