Published on January 14th, 2015 | by Lauren McPhee0
A Comic for the New Year: Rat Queens
Rat Queens is a medieval fantasy comic produced by Image Comics and created by Kutris J. Weibe and Roc Upchurch. It’s the story of four female adventurers, their violent exploits, their debauchery and their friendships. It’s a comic that openly challenges the status quo when it comes to the representation of women, giving its characters free range to be as crass, depraved, foul-mouthed, drug-addled, aggressive and sarcastic as they could possibly want. At the same time, the friendship between the four women is at the heart of the series, complimenting brashness with loyalty, tenderness, insecurities, humour and love. It is one of the most refreshing, loveable and hilarious reads of the past year.
Set in the town of Palisade, the Rat Queens are local ruffians who to both the townspeople’s relief and regret defend against monsters, assassins and tentacled gods. Inspired by Weibe’s love of D&D, the Rat Queens include Hannah, elven mage of scathing sarcasm, Violet, battle-loving hipster dwarf, Dee, shy, atheist human cleric from a family of Cthulhu-monster worshipping cultists and Betty, an anti-hobbit “smidgen” thief with a taste for the sweet and illicit. The first arc, collected in trade with the title “Sass and Sorcery” sees the Rat Queens go up against assassins hired to take care of the town’s “adventurer” problem. Entirely unwilling to apologise to anyone, the Rat Queens defend their name and the work they do, and their freedom to celebrate a successful job well done in whatever ways they see fit. The current arc focuses on the characters more as individuals, delving into their histories while in the present, the Rat Queens are once again defending Palisade as a businessman attempts to summon the god’s of Dee’s people to destroy the town.
What makes this comic so good comes down to the design, the characters and the writing. The world of Rat Queens is colourful, cultural and not without its flaws; from angry townspeople to terrifying armies of monsters, it’s not a world that welcomes the Rat Queens but it is all the more exciting and enriched by their presence. The addition of the contemporary into the medieval is not new but it gives the comic a firm foothold in the market today, and a larger cultural significance. I’m always impressed when I see the cosplay and fan engagement this comic inspires! The Rat Queens themselves, however, are the driving force behind the comic and each one stands out in their uniqueness and diversity through solid characterisation and consistent, ongoing development. And finally, the balance of humour and action, gore and romance, friendship and antagonism makes for incredibly well rounded, entertaining and engaging issues each release.
However, for all its success and praise, production has slowed in recent months following the departure of Roc Upchurch as the artist. Following his arrest in November on charges of domestic violence, the departure is understandable though regrettable. In a book dedicated to diverse, positive and female focused representations of women, the charge is not in line with the values of the comic, especially for one with such a dedicated following. Before anyone despair, however, Image have announced Stjepan Sejic as the new artist from issue 9 and this is a joy to anyone familiar with his work. Sejic is the creator of Death Vigil, also produced by Image, and Sunstone, a web comic recently released in its first volume about a trusting relationship between two women engaging in BDSM. It’s endlessly encouraging that the comic will continue in the hands of one who has shown a dedicated commitment to women’s experience along with the most expressive of artwork, capturing beautifully female emotion and desire. Personally, I couldn’t think of a more perfect replacement and from promotional artwork, I’m confident that no fan will be disappointed with the change.
So, until issues 9 and 10 come out in late January and February, what do we have to tide us over beyond the amazing images going up on the Rat Queens’s Facebook? Well, if you haven’t already, now is the time to catch up on a series that cannot help but impress. What’s more, this week sees the release of the Braga one shot, a rival adventurer who is nonetheless a friend to the Rat Queens. Featuring guest artist Tess Fowler, this aside will likely be able to stand alone while also being a staple of the series for any current fans. We already have four amazing Rat Queens, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t be welcoming to more! As it stands, the issue will serve as an entry point for new readers who don’t yet know the joys of Rat Queens and those that do will appreciate a further look into the world of Palisade and its peoples, cultures, politics and undertakings.