Kaya Book One
Story/Art/Design: Wes Craig
Colors: Jason Wordie
Letters: AW’s Tom Napolitano (AndWorld Design)
Publisher: Image Comics
Through no fault of its own, Kaya has crafted a fresh take on the current direct market indie comic through saving all its bells and whistles — a letters column, behind-the-scenes concept art, covers with cover-blurb refreshers, and personal messages from creator Wes Craig — solely for the monthly single issues. So what’s collected in the trade? Let’s unpack.
What didn’t make the monthly series was a 16-page prologue chapter that ran in the anniversary anthology Image! for four issues (#1-4). This prologue establishes a belabored tone for the lead relationship between siblings Kaya and Jin who are on a chosen-one escort mission through treacherous, or seemingly treacherous, high fantasy landscapes.
Sticking sorely to the trade, Kaya reads like a Kamandi-riff on Andrew Maclean’s ApocalyptiGirl or Head Lopper in that Craig clearly wanted to draw a throwback sword-and-sandal adventure, but for today’s sensibilities and light on depth. What rollicks out in chapters 1-3 meets an abrupt, tidy end in chapter 4 where too many cornerstone arcs wrap up as they hit their narrative turns. What doesn’t help is chapter 5 starts new feuds to cliffhanger the trade on, but feels seemingly out of nowhere. This cast of last humans and lizard folk are easily offended, emotionally fragile young adults making their way through it; they even come with an “I didn’t tell you I’m betrothed” romance if that’s your OTP.
Kaya, an indigenous woman, does suffer from an unfortunate trope as being the last of her kind from a razed village, the guilt of which weighs upon her gas pedal, and starts to feel like “honor” for my fellow AAPI characters. It’s unfortunate that’s her current trajectory since she consistently features a nice portrayal of dreads with Craig utilizing a dry brush and opaque black ink to contour Kaya’s silhouette and reflect her emotional state where possible.
Much like the diversified lizard folk populating the series, Wes Craig fans will be familiar with the mixed use of heavily silhouetted characters against watercolor backdrops. Comfortably, colorist Jason Wordie brings a vivid, though washed approach to Kaya’s lush visuals. Opting for seasonal moods and time of day to dictate page palettes, Wordie’s decisions look stunning atop Craig’s stipple-heavy fantasy realm.
Equally worth praise is letterer Tom Napolitano using balloon tails to add tone to Kaya’s cast. Sometimes the font can feel too big for its balloons, but when Kaya’s balloons have a rectangular end to address her curt mannerisms it rarely causes a kerfuffle. Even more, the lizard riders have a wisp of a balloon tail, which is cute. Another galaxy brain maneuver is dropping the word balloon outline, which lightens the composition of each page to balance out with the stark black Craig employs.
All in all, Kaya feels like Craig traded his mind-bending layouts from Deadly Class for mind-bending compositions and a quick reading flow to ease readers into the adventure. The trade may feel like a stripped down showing of Kaya, but it’s more like a refreshing breeze. If you want the commentary track on this one or Wes Craig’s love (he said “don’t tell the trade-waiters I said this, but I love you (monthly readers) the most.”), then check out Kaya monthly! If not or in the mood for a sword-and-sandal speedrun, check out Kaya in trade!
SPOILER: Kaya only punches with the big Kirby krackle arm four (4) times and never once do we see contact made. If you’re a meathead like me, or that’s what piqued your interest, I’m sorry to report these investigative findings.