Rocketo volume 1: Journey to the Hidden Sea (2006)

I’ve been staring at this collection for about three weeks now, and I’m having trouble finding the right words to describe it. I mean, it’s easy to say it’s wonderful, fascinating, thrilling, completely unique, feeling like a new mythology emerging full-born from the mind and pen of Frank Espinosa. But how do I describe such a singular book? 

Every aspect of Rocketo’s world is completely unique. Rocketo is a mapper, one of a group of men with special skills who are able to find their way from anywhere to anywhere in a world where dangers are everywhere.  Mappers explore the mysterious world of the New World, guiding others to where they want to go. Rocketo Garrison has had many adventures, gone on many journeys, and decides he wants to take one final journey: to the fabled Hidden Sea. 

The summary of the plot makes the book sound unique, but in its execution, this book is more than unique. It’s almost mythical. Espinosa’s book echoes Homer’s Odyssey in its lyrical and emotional tale of a man on a long journey through bizarre places, with his companions by his side. Every element of Espinosa’s creation work together to create a world in which great men take on great tasks, in which men are the products of their pasts, and which those men have destinies to fulfill.

This book is a wonderful combination of spectacular art, gorgeous coloring, and, perhaps most importantly, an almost mythical sense of place and time. Listen, for instance, to this prophecy from the king of the sea, an enormous and legendary sea creature:

Listen well and learn, son of Gar-ee-son, master of exploits. Learn how to cross the hidden sea and return home at last. A great crater is the hidden sea and none, thus far, have penetrated its ancient mysteries. The deathless gods have but one law for this sea of secrecy and that is a simple one. Mark this on your heart, Gar-ee-son, and on the hearts of all who sail with you. Sail clear from your reckless ways. Enter into the gate of the golden dragon, into the great mists which guard the hidden sea. Once there, beware. No life take of any creature. All belongs to the old one. Leave the beasts unharmed, your mind set on home. The keeping of that one law keeps your black ship safe.

There’s something poetically wonderful about that scene, the way the words are composed and the reactions of the travelers. The scene bespeaks of a larger world, one where lessons have been lost and gained, where men and creatures have lived long and complex lives intertwined with each other. More importantly, it’s a world full of surprises, where dangers are unique and people take all shapes and sizes.

Espinosa’s art and coloring are as surprising and unique as his writing. He has a wonderful style that is loose and cartoony like the best of Paul Dini while maintaining its own unique feel. More than that, he uses his coloring directly intertwined with his line-work to create a world that is both completely unique and completely convincing in its own way.

This is a spectacularly impressive book. I actually find myself pulling it out at odd moments and looking again at the amazing artwork. It’s the kind of book that reminds you that when comics are done best, everything looks easy and graceful and beautiful.

It’s only May, but Rocketo is going to be hard to beat as the best graphic novel of the year.


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