The Bean is something you don’t (or at least I don’t) see a whole lot of in web-comics – a straight up classic fantasy story in the style of authors like David Eddings or Terry Brooks (if they did comic books).
On reading The Bean part of me thought “Hmm, this seems very similar to [insert fantasy series here]” and it’s true that it does stick (or has so far) to a very familiar pattern of fantasy story telling. But then part of me thought “Yay, fantasy, I never get read a straight fantasy anymore – I love this stuff.”
Writing fantasy is a hard road when the genre has been so heavily worked already and as with all things you’ll have to gauge your own appetite for a return to swords and spells, goblins and ogres and the like. But if you do fancy it then The Bean might be just what you’re looking for.
The characters and comic concept
Young Bean is a humble dishwasher in a road-side inn deep in Dark Leaf Forest. But fate has much more in store for him and when he is forced to be a “gopher” for a rhyming Troll it puts him on a path that will see him clash with kings, soar with dragons and presumably find his destiny.
Certainly early in the series Bean is a fairly simple character, the archetypical “boy with a good heart trying to do the right thing”. In short a hero in the making. Personally I warmed to him more as he begins to develop and the story starts to set him up for some interesting internal & external conflict. I’m certainly engaged enough in the character to want to find out happens to him.
Some secondary characters, particularly early on, feel quite generic but there is a wise bit of pruning and some interesting developments with the ones that remain. There are also a couple of more original and interesting supporting cast members to help things along.
Bean is treading some very familiar ground, anyone who has read a lot, or even a little, of traditional fantasy will recognise the trope of the boy from humble origins who suddenly discovers he’s really something else entirely and destined for greatness.
And, to be honest, the story doesn’t attempt to significantly deviate from that path which means it all comes down to the quality of the delivery of that story.
Early on I felt that The Bean struggled. As mentioned above I didn’t find the characters hugely engaging and the story felt a bit too predictable. There are also some dialogue and reactions early on that don’t feel entirely natural, a bit forced or stiff.
But somewhere around the 250-300 page mark I found myself starting to get a lot more engaged with the story. The dialogue flows better, as mentioned above the characters develop a bit, and there are a couple of interesting developments plot-wise. So things are in a good place at the moment and hopefully will continue, or even improve, as the story goes on.
The most interesting developments for me are the questions about how much it matters who Bean is, as a person, versus what he represents to various groups or what he find himself a conduit for. Is he merely a vessel for destiny, carried along by forces beyond his control, or will he assert himself as a person who shapes his own fate?
The art is generally excellent, it’s quite a cartoony style (Bean often just has dots for eyes) but it suits the comic and has a nice old school feeling. It kind of reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes in a way.
Originally it was all black and white but the author is apparently going back and colouring the original pages so now there are colour pages presently up to page 59. It’s a bit jarring when you hit the black and white pages if you’re not expecting them. In a sense I kind of preferred it black and white but the colouring is very nicely done.
Author, publishing and timeline
The author of The Bean is Travis Hanson who runs his own company, Bean Leaf Press, which produces comics, illustrations and graphic art .
In 2011 The Bean was nominated for the Best Digital Comic in the Eisner awards.
The Bean is available in print via a store linked to on the comics main page or access directly here.
The story of The Bean, despite being 624 pages in, doesn’t feel like it’s progressed that far into the story as yet. At the current rate of update I’m expecting it to go another 8-10 years before completing.