By Kelly “Cadistra” Aarons
I was given the immense honor of being included on the reviewing and interviewing panel for Blizzard’s newest graphic endeavour, Pearl of Pandaria written by Micky Neilson and illustrated by Sean “Cheeks” Galloway [and crew]. When my own press copy arrived at my door, I’m not kidding when I say I couldn’t put it down!
Packaged more like a children’s illustrated hardcover than a graphic novel, Pearl of Pandaria is the colourful, thrilling tale of young Li Li Stormstout, niece of the famed pandaren brewmaster Chen, who gets a bad case of “Little Mermaid Syndrome” and leaves her home to see the rest of the world. Her frantic father sends Bo, a stoic, unyielding martial arts master to find his daughter and bring her home.
Being the only pandaren for miles will of course draw attention, and Li Li soon attracts the gaze of Zhahara, a naga sea witch, who believes the young cub knows the location of a mystical arcane artifact known as the Pearl of Pandaria. She employs Rumblefitz, the goblin alchemist, his ogre brute of a bodyguard, and Rahjak, a fel orc blademaster, who thirsts for that perfect moment of battle.
Li Li is adorable. Not an immediately likable character, but still very relatable (I’ve never been a big fan of kids to begin with, so that’s just me). She’s impetuous, fun, and unerringly cheerful, and makes for a wonderful character contrast against Bo, who smiles maybe twice during the entire story. In a world like Azeroth, sometimes it’s a challenge not to make everyone into a grim, gruff, heavily muscled killing machine. There are men, women, children, civilians, non-combatants, and workers. Neilson and Galloway do an extraordinary job at making real, believable characters.
When I said earlier that it looks like a children’s book, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. Taking a great departure from the grim and gritty comics and manga, Pearl of Pandaria is bright, with gentle, clean lines and beautiful colour palettes. It looks more like someone took a World of Warcraft animated feature and laid it out into an engaging, eye-catching product. While the Canadian price tag is a bit steep (at $28.99), I would honestly say it’s well worth the money. This is not some throwaway publication–this is a work of art, and could easily grace the coffee table of the most discerning artist and gamer.
I could spend another several paragraphs heaping praise upon Neilson, Galloway, and the entire crew at Table Taffy Studios, but I’ll settle for this: this team knocked this project out of the park, and I can only hope that Blizzard puts these superpowered men and women on more artistic projects like this.