Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo vol. 1 GN: The Road to Epoli – Ben Costa & James Parks

3 out of 5

Throughout the first volume of Rickety Stitch, a “stitch” – a minstrel – who is also a skeleton (named Rickety Stitch, y’see), has recurrent dreams with a song floating through: verses detailing a Stranger’s trip to Epoli. These dream sequences, hatched in black and white, and the accompanying song verses, are meant to give the tale some structure, and intrigue, and inform Stitch’s need to find a purpose, echoing the tune’s traveling-to-a-far-off-land narrative.

Unfortunately, the song is very wandering, and very vague. Its patter doesn’t rhyme very cleanly, which isn’t a sin, but makes it even less compelling when reading along – it doesn’t flow; it doesn’t really tell us anything. Stitch’s dreams are somewhat similar in this sense, with some interesting imagery brought forth, but stuck between panels which don’t serve those beats especially well.

In the backmatter of ‘The Road to Epoli,’ we get an appendix of the various creature types we meet or hear about in the story. These are of the same caliber: there’s a clear sense of a Bigger World being crafted, and yet these entries on gnomes and liches don’t seem to necessarily connect to that – they are, again, a bit too open.

Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo is a comic, printed in a nice, square-ish, colorful, flippable, bound format by Random House, in which our bard and his R2-D2ish friend ‘Goo’ – as it sounds, a slab of jelly – get fired from their jobs as dungeon tenders, and then set out to find meaning for themselves. This, typically, takes the form of hijinx: meeting gnomes and elves and unicorns; getting kidnapped; fighting monsters. Creators Ben Costa and James Parks are admitted fans of fantasy, and their comedic slant on those worlds are not unentertaining: the corporate structure applied to the dungeons; the “mundane” approach to high fantasy elements. Stitch is also voiced really well, playing up the innocent would-be-hero bit without overdoing his naivety – he’s not dumb – or having him step up in ways that seem out of place for his conflict-averse character. While I think Costa’s art has some stylistic and pacing issues – jokes occasionally miss because of timing, and the MS Paint thickness of the sound effects and linework puts everything on the same layer, often preventing a sense of scope or undermining the effectiveness of attempted moods – in general, the loose, jangly characters are a lot of fun to spend time with and have immediate personality, and the colorwork is very pleasing.

However, the story itself doesn’t feel like its best version: there’s the sense that Costa and Parks designed a whole world, and then decided to tailor a character within that world to a somewhat typical hero’s journey. This doesn’t match with some interviews I’ve read, which suggest much more detailed outlining and craft, but nonetheless, it’s how the finished product read to me. The result is a bright and boastful world, packed with characters and concepts, that feels both restrained – we’re very purposefully hemmed in to something teeny and tiny, because bigger things are yet to come – and then also rather flat, like the duo are scared to step too far off of more predictable fantasy elements.

Thanks to the homely vibe espoused by the lead characters, and dots of chuckly humor, and Costa’s generally entertaining artwork, it’s an easy read. But it’s definitely not grabbing – I can put it down; I do not feel especially drawn to follow ‘the road to Epoli.’ Because I do believe in the work that’s gone into this, though, I am planning on seeing what’s next: ideally, with the setup out of the way, the world-building can connect better with the actual material, and the comic can appropriately grow in scope.