“Unsounded” – it’s an intriguing word. Being me I had to guess at its meaning, can’t just go looking it up, I had to puzzle over it a while. My guesses were either something like “depths undiscovered”, you know like “sounding” the depth of water or “sounding out” someone’s character, but then I thought perhaps it meant “a sound not made”. This makes sense as one of the main characters, Duane, is a mage with a rare ability: the ability to cast spells in his head - that is without uttering a sound.
Anyway turns out both guesses are valid meanings so I’m none the wiser as to which meaning the author intended, perhaps both. Anyway, it’s a good name for a comic.
Unsounded is pretty classic fantasy fare, though quite dark and bloody in places (warning: without wanting to spill any spoilers be aware that some story elements could be upsetting to some readers) but also quite funny in others.
Characters and Comic Concept
The protagonists of the story are Duane, the aforementioned mage, and the girl Sette, child of the leader of the Frummagen family, “the most despicable gang of criminals in all bloody Shartshane”. Duane is the unwilling escort and bodyguard of Sette as she ventures forth as her father’s unlikely emissary to demand a tribute payment from a cousin who has set up shop in distant parts.
Duane is educated, moral, given to formality, and long dead but still, unhappily, walking the earth. Sette is his antithesis: poorly educated, wild in nature, careless, and sometimes cruel, where he is careful, more prone to kindness, and as reserved in death as she is vibrant in life.
But then, in other ways, they’re very much alike - both a bit full of themselves, sometimes arrogant and full of pride. Both are quick to anger. Too similar and too different to co-exist peacefully for long, it’s the conflict, and wider relationship dynamics, between these two main characters and its representation through dialogue and art that is the stand out feature for me in this comic.
The cast of secondary characters are done well enough, though some fall into fairly cliché roles others have more nuanced personality. Generally they seem developed proportionally in relation to the amount of time they appear in the comic which seems fair.
Another strength of the comic is a well-developed and realised world setting, one that includes different races and magic arts, countries with political conflicts and internal strife. The entire thing is well thought out and developed with a nice level of background detail that is dropped into the dialogue and art, without it being blatant exposition, that allow us to learn about our characters’ backgrounds, world and culture - though prepare to be a little bit lost in the first couple of chapters.
The story itself is solid, particularly in the main storyline, but some of the character back story isn’t as strong – still it’s all done to a high level. The story so far has progressed at a decent pace, though perhaps getting a little bogged down in recent chapters where it feels like things have stalled slightly.
The style is what I’d call semi-serious fantasy and for the most part maintains a nice feel of continuity and plausibility though if you’re the sort to analyse and nit-pick (like me) you wouldn’t struggle to find some plot points, the odd scene, and character elements that don’t quite make sense in the context of the story (though the writer may yet explain some of these oddities away in chapters not yet written – got to be careful, I’ve been caught like this before, ragging on some plot point and then the writer makes it all make sense with some genius twist).
Given its semi-serious nature it then sometimes feels a little odd to come across some of the more serious and darker scenes in Unsounded, or perhaps the reverse. Either way the comic can feel a little bit schizophrenic in its tone. It certainly doesn’t pull many punches with its depictions of reality-inspired brutality so it then feels out of place when some characters inexplicably launch into a song and dance number.
The other standout for me is the art, regular pages are done to a good standard (improving over the life of the comic) but on occasion the artist steps it up a notch to produce some outstanding standalone pieces. There are also some clever tricks with the page layout which produces some really nice effects.
Author, publishing and timeline
The author has described the story as “epic” and that it’s a long term project. This always makes me nervous, the inter-webs are littered with the corpses of comics whose writers shot for the stars – let’s hope Unsounded isn’t destined to become one of them.
Still, having run for four years and enjoying some success, Unsounded seems a solid investment of your time, though given the writers’ ambitions it seems likely that it will take at least another four, realistically longer, for this to complete so you’ll have to be in for the long haul.
The author, Ashely Cope, is a graduate of the Ringling College of Art and Design and lives in Florida and works as a freelance illustrator.
Book One of Unsounded is available in print on the comics website. There was a Kickstarter for Book Two which has ended but presumably it will be for sale as well at some future date.
R J Hogan