THE FANTASY AND FURRY-IOUS: Xanadu, the comic book series
Back in the long ago days of the late 1980s, a black-and-white comic book series appeared on comic shop shelves. Xanadu, written and illustrated by Vicky Wyman, was a cross between Rafael Sabatini-type adventure and romance and Ray Harryhausen-style fantasy and magic. The plot was both simple and complex: a dashing and daring thief breaches the walls of the Empress’s palace; falls in love with a beautiful lady-in-waiting; earns the enmity of the captain of the guard, who happens to be his love’s other suitor; and becomes involved in the sultry, yet naive, young Empress’s intrigues. Oh, and it stars a cast of “furries.” In Xanadu, the noble rulers are creatures of magic: unicorns, dragons, griffins, and the like. The Freeborn are foxes, bears, wolves, etc., and the despised Domestique are cats, dogs, rats, and so on.
The hero of Xanadu is Tabbe, a cat and thief who seems to enjoy the thrill of his profession as much as its financial rewards. It isn’t until he falls in love with the beautiful and higher born Fatima, that he begins to have higher aspirations:
“I love you. I’d take you with me but I’ve nothing to offer you…yet. Fate is not kind to a Domestique, but I feel a cat of courage can carve his own destiny. I’ll return for you one day. I promise. Wait for me.”
In carving out his destiny, Tabbe crosses paths with the Empress Alicia, a young, flirtatious unicorn, who nonetheless has a core of steel:
“I may do whatever is necessary when I feel the Empire is at risk.”
She is loyal to her friends, fierce toward her enemies, courageous, fallible, and definitely feminine.
The villain of the piece is the griffin Reginald Plume, whose over-whelming pride, arrogance, and jealousy make him deserving of every bit of comeuppance he gets. Yet Wyman gives him moments when you can almost – almost – pity him, as he sees where he is headed. But he simply can’t stop himself.
The supporting cast are all delightful. There’s Jonathan, Tabbe’s donkey sidekick, who is the voice of reason seldom listened to; Octavius, Alicia’s crusty dragon adviser; Kinomon, the impetuous Golden Dragon who comes to serve in Alicia’s household guard, and Firepetal, Kinomon’s delicate betrothed, who has more courage than anyone.
As they say in The Princess Bride, Xanadu has “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, chases, escapes, true love” and kissing. Definitely kissing. And more. This is a sensual, sexy, and sexual comic book. The characters indulge their natures, but it’s never crude or cheap. Wyman is tasteful. She knows when to use heavy shadow or fade to black to allow her characters privacy and her readers a chance to use their imagination.
Wyman can draw. Man, can she draw! Her lines are expressive, organic, and flowing. They create a sense of movement on the page that the newer generation of comic book artists doesn’t always achieve.
The only time Wyman’s pen fails her – in my opinion – is in the big set fight scenes. There seems to almost be too much detail, which can make it difficult to follow the action. But that’s a minor quibble.
Following the completion of the original series, the full-color one-shot Xanadu: Phelia’s Tale was published by Eclipse in 1988. Scripted and drawn by Wyman from a plot by Steve Gallacci, Phelia is a story of palace intrigue and forbidden love told on a winter’s night. Within the context of the story, Wyman touches on duty; romantic love; what the relationship between the classes should be; and immortality – all without being heavy-handed. She also makes sure to end it on a note of hope. Colorist Sam Parsons gave the book a bright appearance that enhanced, rather than overpowered, Wyman’s art.
In 1993, Mu Press collected Xanadu’s five issues into a graphic novel entitled Xanadu: Thief of Hearts. The following year, a new series appeared, Across Diamond Seas. This storyline has the majority of the cast sailing for the Golden Realm and encountering a pair of young, headstrong magical kyryn. More a coming-of-age tale than Thief of Hearts was, the story focuses on the Empress Alicia and leaves her a changed unicorn. Wyman’s art seems more assured here. There is less use of heavy blacks and the pages have an open, inviting look. The action scenes are also easier to follow. All in all, it’s a very enjoyable production.
Two chapters of a third series, Into Golden Skies, appeared in the Xanadu: The Ever-Changing Palace fanzine in ‘95 and ‘96. As far as I can tell, it’s never been completed; which is a shame because the opening chapters promised an epic story featuring guileless kitsune and dragon assassins.
Xanadu in all its forms is a tribute and throwback to hopeful, imaginative fantasy where heroes are heroes, reckless youths can mature, and romance is romantic. If you ever get a chance, you should check it out.