Writer/Illustrator: A. Szabla (@ASzabla)
Publisher: Self-Published (later published on Tapas and WebToon)
WHAT IS IT?
The royal courts are filled with devious plots and politics in this dark fantasy epic about the Beast King of Hell, his bodyguard, and the young boy who accidentally inserts himself into their narrative.
Think Where the Wild Things Are with a Bayonetta or Devil May Cry aesthetic.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
After a human toddler name Timonthy falls into a massive pit in the city of New Boston, he finds himself surrounded by the legions of Hell while out on the hunt to find souls to feast upon. The current reigning Beast King, Hadrian, finds himself enamored with the innocent boy and decides to adopt him as an heir to the throne. His bodyguard and consort, Bernard, is wary of what taking the human in might do to the king’s reputation.
As hungry, relentless forces aim to stir up the courts with scandal and gossip, chaos reigns supreme amongst the barren wastelands they call home. The two must play the game well to keep the little prince safe from the ravenous spirits that linger in the Pit, all the while balancing their own relationship and the image of unwavering strength on the throne. Little do they know, the choice to adopt the innocent Tim may change the course of their lives forever.
Szabla’s artwork is carefully done with a focus on detail and each page is packed with textures and expansive landscapes. Every demon and building is overflowing with patterns, accessories, and textures that are easy to make out and do not get lost in the black and white art, even when several bodies are clamoring atop each other.
The story is gripping and focused on the characters. Leaning into the relational aspect of the narrative, readers are treated to a compelling story of an unlikely family in an unruly kingdom that is ripe with romance, dark humor, and character development that is quite human despite the hellish nature of their existence.
The take on black and white artwork is unique since the characters/beasts are shaded in a minimalistic way or often not at all, which makes them stand out against the stark black or shockingly pure white backgrounds that make up the majority of the webcomic.
The lettering is legible, easy to read, and it is clear to see which character is speaking. The use of square boxes to help narrate key plot points are instantly understood and the sound effects are sized appropriately, they fit in well with the overall artistic style of the series and rely on placement for impact instead of bold outlines or larger sizes.
The shining piece of this series is the character designs. There is a consistency in their anatomy from panel to panel and they feel realistic despite the more animated lean of the illustrations. They have an otherworldly aesthetic while presenting as human, their armor is unique, and the trademark teeth of their beastly forms often carries over into their human form which becomes an iconic part of their features.
On the flip side, the demons in particular are incredible. Every one of them feels massive and dark, and each family line has their own unique characteristics to set the houses apart. There is a gothic style to their true forms that stands out against other depictions of demons in modern comics. They are less grotesque and more powerful, a perfect balance of fierce and elegant.
Certain pages are full spreads of architecture shots and they are gorgeous. The cathedral like structures feel impressively large and are reminiscent of the architecture in Bloodborne. The mastery of perspective to show scale makes the world of the Pit feel monstrous, eluding to a large setting just waiting to be explored.
Szabla balances conversation heavy portions of the webcomic with slow paced establishing shots and scenes of movement. It comes across as cinematic, setting the stage for the coming banter with a sense of anticipation.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Debauchery, nudity, and adult themes, strong language, violence and gore, and your typical hell-based, dark imagery.
It can be a bit hard to tell that, when a character is enveloped in swirls of dust/clouds, it is meant to portray the transformation from beast to human (or vice versa), since the setting is desert-like it can be misread as environmental. The shifts can be a bit abrupt, happening between pages or even panel to panel, and for those still learning the alternate forms, it might be hard to keep up with who is whom.
While Banquet’s world-building and character development is vast, not much of it is in the actual comic. There is a ton of lore that - at this moment - is only found in the footnotes the individual pages on the site, or on Patreon/social media posts. These lore bits can be easy to miss; i.e. page 43, where Szabla notes the beasts only speak Latin which is why Tim doesn’t understand them, but that is not addressed in the actual story.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
With stunning black and white illustrations, an incredible cast of diverse characters, and a dark, sprawling world; Banquet is a fun romp through the ravenous and cruel courts of Hell filled with debauchery, monstrous beasts, and royal scandal. Though still in the early stages of the story, there are obviously big plans laid out for the upcoming chapters. Szabla has mentioned a deeper look into the world of the Pit and its inhabitants, an appearance of angelic beings, and the adolescence of the tiny human turned demon prince as he discovers his place amongst the hordes of Hell.
Eisner winning comic creator Szabla has put an extensive amount of effort into this series. Their passion for the story and characters they have crafted is evident in every small detail. With mini-comics and an active fanbase, those who wish to take a deep dive into the Pit have several avenues to indulge their obsession further. The series is perfect for fans of gothic fantasy and light horror, slightly twisted humor, queer relationships and beautiful illustrations. With its large cast of characters, royal intrigue, and mature leaning romance, the world of Banquet beckons you to come take your place at the King’s table and watch the chaos unfold.
HOW DO I READ IT?
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