Dina Recommends: Ekho

Hello and welcome to another round of Dina Recommends, where I present comics, TV shows, podcasts and other things that I think should get more love from a mainstream audience! 

Last time, I wrote a post about superhero comics and how I got depressed when I discovered how sick I was of them. But, as I have been saying for years, there’s a whole world of comics outside the superhero genre, and here in Europe there’s a lot more variation when it comes to comics. I have a special fondness for the Franco-Belgian style adventure comics… for the most part they’re free from all the things that have come to annoy me about superhero comics: No reboots or crisises, no overdone angst or “edgy darkness,” no spreading themselves thin by having the most popular heroes have five different ongoing titles done by five different creative teams… and no killing beloved characters off for shock value and resurrecting them again six months later.

Well… mostly not. The “killing and resurrecting” part is sort of central to the comic I want to talk to you about today: Ekho, written by Christophe Arleston and drawn by Alessandro Barbucci!

 

Ekho, also known as “Ekho: The Mirror World” is a French adventure-mystery comic with heavy fantasy overtones. Since its start in 2013, eight albums of 40-50 pages each have come out. meaning there’s a new album slightly more often than once per year. That’s how French comics roll… they generally come out less frequently, but the stories are longer and they usually have more attention and care put into them! 

The comic tells the story of another world called, well, Ekho. Ekho exists in a dimension parallel to our own, and has a lot of things in common with our world… the countries and nations are roughly the same, and you have skyscrapers and movie theatres and taxi cabs and all sorts of stuff, but there are a lot of differences too. No electricity for one thing, and magic exists, and all sorts of dragons and fantasy creatures roam about freely. Most important of these creatures are the Preshauns, cute little squirrel-like creatures with a penchant for bureaucracy and a serious obsession with tea, and who pretty much run the entire world without anyone else really realizing how much power they have.

Every so often, someone from our world ends up stranded in Ekho. Usually this happens when they get into some kind of fatal accident, like a plane crash… instead of dying they find themselves transported to another world. This happens often enough that the people of Ekho just amusingly tolerate the “newcomers” who show up with no idea what’s going on and who wonder if they’re in some weird kind of afterlife.

This is what happens to our main character, a young Parisian student named Fourmille Gratule (“I know it’s not common, but I guess it amused my parents…”). When her flight to New York crashes, she finds herself in Ekho… along with a guy named Yuri Podrov, who happened to be sitting next to her at the time. Here, Fourmille finds out that she’s just inherited the business of her aunt Odelalie, who herself came to Ekho about twenty years ago but recently passed away. The “business” turns out a be a “talent agency”… actually, in practice it mostly seems to involve striptease and erotic dance performances.

(Maybe I should point out that this comic isn’t really for kids. There are lots of gorgeous sexy women here, and plenty of nudity and sex jokes, some swearing… and a bit of “medium-level graphic violence.” Basically, if naked tits offend you, you should stay away from this one.)

One thing that complicates matters is that Fourmille, after arriving in Ekho, sometimes finds herself possessed by the spirits of the recently dead. All these spirits have some sort of unfinished business, usually relating to their deaths which tended to happen in mysterious circumstances…. and so the stories usually have some “murder mystery” elements to them as the circumstances around these deaths are explored. In the first album, for example, Fourmille spends a portion of the story possessed by her aunt Odalalie in order to find out just who killed her…. in another she’s possessed by a movie star diva who has to find out what happened to her daughter…. in one album she’s possessed by Shrodinger’s cat and walks on all fours. 

It’s all very surreal, but it’s an interesting gimmick, and put to good use… and it REALLY works thanks to the expressive artwork. When possessed, Fourmille’s expressions and body languages change drastically; she moves and talks and emotes like a completely different person. To complete the image, she usually wears her hair differently (as aunt Odalalie, she wears her hair in a bun; as Shrodinger’s cat she twists her hair to kind of look like cat ears, with one long strand of hair down her back that sort of resembles a tail). 

Speaking of the art…

The first thing you notice about Ekho is just HOW INCREDIBLY GORGEOUS THE ARTWORK IS. It’s the sort of comic where you can just look at the artwork for ages, with it’s intricately detailed and beautiful background, expressive characters and amazing colours. Alessandro Barbucci might be better known as the original artist and character designer for Disney’s W.I.T.C.H, where he delivered solid artwork… here he’s seriously stepped up his game, and the results are breathtaking. Just LOOK at these pages:

SO beautiful.

I will admit it… for the first couple of albums, the gorgeous artwork was the main, if not the only, draw for me. The premise was interesting enough, and it was fun to see how Ekho worked as a world… but the characters, especially Fourmille and Yuri, were HORRIBLY unlikeable. Both of them just came across as really terrible human beings… And here I’m not talking the FUN kind of terrible, like Vicki or Jenny from The Bellybuttons, where you know they’re being awful but they’re so entertaining and over-the-top about it that you can’t help but laugh.  Fourmille and Yuri are just… off-putting as people. And much of it comes from their interaction with each other… they treat each other terribly and yet, like so many other main couples, we’re meant to see them as romantic partners. 

It’s a cliche… two people bickering, and it’s meant to be seen as romantic tension. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. In this instance it DOESN’T, because Fourmille and Yuri seem to genuinely LOATHE each other, at least at first. Fourmille especially; she’s essentially the world’s bitchiest “Tsundere” whose treatment of Yuri borders on abuse. And Yuri’s no better; he just grouches and complains about everything, never showing any sort of redeeming qualities or likeability… also, there’s the album where he fucks a possessed Fourmille and… yeeeah, the early albums don’t reflect well on either of them..

But then… around the fourth or fifth album…. things change. The pseudo-romantic tension between Fourmille and Yuri eased up, and they began getting along a lot better, coming across as more genuinely friendly with a fondness for banter and friendly insults. The sexual tension was also eased up a lot, especially since we got other (temporary) romantic interests for them both. It also helps that Fourmille lightened up considerably and began displaying her sweeter, friendlier side far more often… and while Yuri remained a whiny and vaguely pathetic grouch, at least he was shown to genuinely care about Fourmille sa a person. By the time of the seventh album I was actually enjoying their interactions. (Also doesn’t hurt that the seventh album is in my opinion the best one so far; it has a great mystery, tons of pop culture reference, and Fourmille explores her bisexuality, as well as spending much of the album impersonating Sherlock Holmes.)

In the end, despite the series taking a while to really get good, I enjoy Ekho so much that I definitely think it’s worth a recommendation. Especially for the artwork. I mean, that artwork is really pretty. I think I’m in love with the artwork or something.