2 out of 5
What to make of this? It’s an interesting project, for sure, and not unworth reading, despite my rating – great art with amazing colors from Ian Gibson; interesting world building from Wagner and Grant; and really engaging lettering from Blambot. But it feels like a weird mix of committed and rather blase at the same time, like Wags and Grant mapped out a lot of ideas, but then weren’t sure how this anthropomorphic fantasy stuff would actually land at Marvel, and so delivered it with something of a half-smile…
Which results in the story of struggling sorcerer’s apprentice (and toad) Genghis accompanying the escaping prince and queen of Haven on a quest for safety – while their kingdom is ransacked by evil powers from beyond (and their accompanying evil toad sorcerer, natch) – never quite hitting its stride, the writing always seeming like it’s just on the edge of comedy, but then playing it very straight-faced, just in case. Similarly, we have some fun characters who are begging for further characterization, like silent warrior Quanah, or warrior frog Hercules whom the crew picks up along the way, or the queen, and the text will take some half-steps in that direction, before dialing it back and putting everyone in a pretty stereotypical box.
The 48 pages are not un-fun, with, as mentioned, some really pleasant art from Gibson, given material that allows him to be more expressive and stylistic, but is also grounded by the non-sci fi setting of woods and caves – ultimately a great balance for the artist. And the writing bops along, taking us from conflict to conflict, the “joke” being that Genghis will bumble every spell until he doesn’t, and ending on an “end of book one” that never seemingly merited a book two.
Since I don’t think we hear too much about this book (I hadn’t; only running into it on the edges of trying to collect Wagner’s stuff), I suspect it was somewhat sent out to die – though, interestingly, according to a Sling and Arrows review, the writerly duo had been trying to get this concept rolling for a while. Still, the ultimate result is something that’s surprisingly breezy, but, going along with that, is also very weightless, with a rather indecisive tone.
(Side note: I found this page which reprints the first 2-page edition of Genghis Grimtoad, when it ran in parts in Look Alive magazine, drawn by Angus McBride. I have to say, while, in general, I like Ian Gibson’s art quite a bit, McBride seems to be much more in tune with a true fantasy angle, and the slimmer lettering is a better fit for the tone as well; both lend more seriousness to how the humans and the toads are represented. I can see myself wanting to read more of that version, and done in two-page segments, or however long the redone versions in UK comic Strip would have been, may have also worked better than reading it in one go in the GN form.)