Review: 'Slightly Damned', by Sarah 'Chu' Wilson
These are the first two collections of the wacky fantasy Slightly Damned full-page, full-color internet weekly comic strip by Sarah “Chu” Wilson. She has won the Ursa Major Award for both the Best Anthropomorphic Other Literary Work (these book collections) and for the Best Anthropomorphic Graphic Story, for both 2012 and 2013. If you haven’t read “Slightly Damned” yet, these are a lot more fun than reading through the strip’s online archives a page at a time.
The back-cover blurb, which establishes the mood as well as the plot, says:
Rhea has a big problem: SHE’S DEAD. Too burdened with sin for Heaven or Purgatory, yet not quite bad enough for Hell, Rhea is sentenced by the grim reaper to the obscure Ring of the Slightly Damned. There she finds that death is only the beginning of her worries as she contends with dysfunctional Demons and their perplexing pets, a socially awkward Angel with a cute ‘n cuddly curse, a goofy god, and even… herself. The afterlife just ain’t what it used to be!
Slightly Damned, Book One, by Sarah “Chu” Wilson, Phoenix, AZ, Slightly Damned Comics/Orlando, FL, Ka-Blam Digital Printing, June 2012, trade paperback $39.95 (unpaged [276 pages]), digital download $4.99.
Slightly Damned, Book Two, by Sarah “Chu” Wilson, Phoenix, AZ, Slightly Damned Comics/Orlando, FL, Ka-Blam Digital Printing, May 2013, trade paperback $39.95 (unpaged [318 pages]), digital download $4.99.
Rhea Snaketail is the furry yellow being on the front cover; a prehensile-tailed Jakkai, so she’s mortal but not human in the first place. She doesn’t just look small because of perspective; Jakkais are small compared to humans, Demons, and Angels. The purple-furred, horned guy is Buwaro, a friendly but really naïve fire Demon of the Ring of the Slightly Damned; and the blue-haired Angel with the sword is Snowy, a.k.a. Kieri. Buwaro is holding Thadius, a rock that he thinks is his friend. And those are the only spoilers that I’ll give away.
Book One, part one, "To Hell and Back", is about Rhea’s death, her being assigned by the grim reaper to the Ring of the Slightly Damned, her meeting with Buwaro, next Buwaro’s older sister Sakido and brother Iratu, the mystery of how Rhea died (she doesn’t want to say), more Demons, and finally Rhea’s and Buwaro’s escape from Hell back to Rhea’s mortal world.
In part two, "Snow Angels", it becomes evident that Rhea’s world is not ours. It’s a snowy winter, and Rhea, pretending to be still alive, has to explain why she still has her summer fur instead of her winter coat. Snowy/Kieri enters the story – Buwaro calls her Snowy and Rhea calls her Kieri. We see the Jakkai home village, and our first humans in their nearby town of Farun. Unfriendly Demons trying to kill Snowy appear (nothing personal; it’s the eternal War between Heaven and Hell), who are freaked out by Buwaro’s defending her. Buwaro doesn’t know what an Angel is. Like I said, he’s really naïve. Kieri explains how she got separated from the other two Angels who fell with her to Rhea’s world, her brother Kazai and his friend Sanjulo, and the threesome set out into Rhea’s world to find them. Buwaro and Kieri don’t know what they are getting into, and Rhea looks forward to exploring.
Besides, don’t you remember how I always used to say shit about leaving the Jakkai village and exploring Fragaria one day? This is my chance!
One of Rhea’s minor sins is that she has a salty vocabulary.
In Book Two, part three, "River-Side Stories", the threesome trek across the snowy countryside toward Riverside City looking for the two missing Angels. They don’t find them, but they do have many humorous misadventures in Riverside City. River-Side Stories. Get it? During these, we learn more about the reactions of humans to Demons and Angels in their midst (the Jakkai are old news), about the religious situation on this world (which has two moons), the three bond together more firmly despite being an Odd Triple (can a relationship between a Demon and an Angel ever work out?) and Lazuli, one of the unfriendly Demons from part two, reappears (now it’s personal!) determined to kill Kieri. New characters are introduced: the Sinclair family of traveling merchants; husband Heathcliff, wife Miranda, and young niece Samantha (Sammy). Since the missing Angels are not in Riverside City, Rhea, Buwaro, and Kieri join them in moving on to Weyville.
In part four, "Love and War", an old diary reveals Buwaro’s and his siblings’ past in the Ring of the Slightly Damned, a Seraph attacks Buwaro and Kieri, and is defeated by an unexpected ally, and Buwaro and Snowy (Kieri) become more than Good Friends (see the cover). Book Three, with parts five, "Forgive Me", and six, "The Flower Festival", is coming soon.
Slightly Damned is a rollicking good fantasy adventure. The setting ranges from Hell to a stereotypical role-playing medieval fantasy world in which Angels and Demons (and others) wander. The three main characters play off each other with admirably distinct personalities.
Rhea Snaketail is sarcastic, snarky and likes to tease her friends, but she is grumpily loyal to them. Her speech is full of slang and swearing. ("Fan-fucking-tastic! I leave you two alone for a few minutes, and you go and piss off a couple of Demons into a homicidal rage!") Buwaro appears to be unbelievably stupid ("But... ah... what's a forest?") and Rhea’s comic-relief foil, but he is just naïve (when he is introduced, he has never known anyplace other than Hell) and he gradually learns. Kieri/Snowy is very soft-spoken (her dialogue is usually in small type) and stammers a lot. ("R- R- Rhea! Th- that's not funny!")
What appears at first to be a simplistic Christian religion of good Angels vs. evil Demons gradually develops considerable originality and complexity. Book Two begins with the story of the Three Gods of this world. Although most characters are standard heterosexuals, there are a few who are unabashedly homosexual, and no big deal is made of it. The more you read, the more the world of Slightly Damned grows on you.
Sarah “Chu” Wilson’s art is rough but gaudily colorful; the publisher has done a good job of transferring it from the Internet onto paper. It is straightforward when the narrative is straightforward, while flashbacks are in black and white with only characters’ eyes and important action in one color. Early on, she experiments with simplistic, childish scrawls and other standouts for dreams and wish-fulfillment sequences, but these are soon given up. I wish that she’d continued this. She often shows anime influences of super-deformed and kawaii-ness. Her main drawback is with too many panels with black text on dark brown backgrounds. But as with most comic strips that have been going on for many years, there is a steady evolution/improvement in Chu’s art style.
For those who want the technical info, Book One contains strips #1, March 13, 2004, to #187, April 21, 2007, divided into two parts. Book Two is strips #188, April 28, 2007, to #376, March 14, 2010, divided into parts three and four. These are printed 8 1/2" x 11" by Ka-Blam Digital Printing, and sold exclusively through Ka-Blam’s retail outlet, IndyPlanet, both of Orlando, Florida.
Chu says in her biography:
She created Slightly Damned for an animation project in high school. It was fun so she kept making it after the project was done, never paying any mind to formatting or file sizes.
This is why a full-page of her online strip sometimes fills two pages when reformatted for this book.
Slightly Damned frankly was not my choice for the Best of the Year Ursa Major Award, but it is easy to see why it won. These two collections will bring it more fans.