Everyone knows good things come in threes, and the most recent example is the comics by B. Mure in the Ismyre series. The third installment is immanent, and there’s no better time than now to start reading this sincere, lovely, and meaningful trio of comics.
The wobbly, sketchy style combined with a bit of a cold open was a little hard to parse at first, especially since there are two threads of story in Ismyre that don’t entirely connect. I would recommend reading the second volume (Terrible Means), which is actually a prequel, first, and then Ismyre and finally The Tower in the Sea. It seems like Mure started off trying to tell a self-contained mystery story, but quickly elaborated on the world until there was a whole political and ecological drama going on. Both elements are thoughtfully constructed, so aside from some initial confusion with Ismyre, it’s impossible not to fall headfirst into these stories and stay immersed for the whole book.
None of the three books break the 100-page mark, but these brief volumes feel much longer (in a good way). The stories are self-contained but hint at much larger goings-on, giving the sense that there’s a huge, lived-in world just waiting to be explored around every painted corner.
This is equally because the stories are so lovely and because the art is so utterly charming. All the characters are anthropomorphized animals in a world that has all the trappings of humanity. I’d say it’s a bit like Redwall or Mouseguard just because those are the most famous examples, but there are no swords and no moral-heavy interspecies conflict. A better comparison is actually the board game Everdell (and companion Pearlbrook), with its focus on making, exploring, and building. The art, though, eschews realism for a dreamlike watercolor palette, with deep strong blues and warm reds and golds. The colors bleed over the linework like magic spilling over the narrative, making everything feel a little bigger, a little more enchanted.
These are stories that mix intrigue and magic with heartfelt friendship. Mure has a real knack for portraying relationships and emotions with a minimum of words and panels without losing any of the emotional impact. I loved all the characters in each of the books. There’s the lonely Edward in Ismyre who meets a gregarious fox named Faustine, and who together take on the mystery of the neighborhood disappearances. Both people and objects have been going missing, but does it have anything to do with the “ecoterrorists?” In Terrible Means, the disgraced but undaunted scholar Henriett and her loyal friend Sybil have a different mystery to solve, albeit a much more far-reaching one. What is causing the blight on local plants, and how far is it going to spread? And what will they do once they find out? And finally in the upcoming The Tower in the Sea, the heavy-hearted orphan Miriam and sweet friend Efrim, as well as their know-it-all classmate Cassius who have to figure out whether their divinations have uncovered an unavoidable apocalypse, or whether there’s still time to affect change.
All the books tie together with a focus on environmentalism and the message that knowing and doing must be linked. B. Mure clearly wants to inspire informed action, and the repeated, unflinching hope with which they infuse the narrative definitely makes it feel possible. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment already.
The third installment, The Tower in the Sea, comes out Oct 3.