A sojourn through time, space, or to another universe altogether has its appeal.
Whether it be anime like Escaflowne, Digimon, and the dimensional hopping of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, or from fantasy literature such as The Wizard of Oz, and The Chronicles of Narnia where heroes inadvertently blunder over to a strange world, the wonders of traveling to another place is a treasure trove concept.
The wealth of adventure, and character development is immense in these settings as it takes a cast and throws them into a fish out of water situation, where, they have to rely on both literal and internal strength to succeed. They have to learn how to live differently in some cases. They have to adapt to new norms, and become accomplished in skills or abilities they otherwise would not even consider pursuing in the world they have left behind.
Journey To The Middle Kingdom, or JTMK, is one such web comic that explores this tried and true territory. Written by Johnathan Hop, Novella Locritani on letters, with vibrant art by Dimas Yuli, JTMK has a full crew, giving its overall presentation vim and polish that solo creator indie projects sometimes lack.
The strength shows in the panels, where solid writing and artwork come together to drive the first introductory chapter, ‘Legend of the White Snake Maiden’, home like a train spike.
The story begins with Jason Xia, a brusque jock at Lakeview Highschool, who, in the middle of playing basketball witnesses a Phoenix fly overhead. Certain that he did not imagine what he had seen, Jason is shaken from his brooding by urbane friend Sabrina Kennedy, notifying him of their mutual friend’s (Michelle Jones) ‘secret project’ being finished, and they should go see it together.
They discover Michelle Jones has been working for three days in the supply closet for the art class, finding her sleeping in a paint splattered box. A gifted painter, Michelle shows them her finished ‘secret project’, an image of a woman in a white gown. Beautiful and stirring, Jason is positive he’s seen the exact same picture at his grandparents’ antique shop, and the three decide to visit the shop tomorrow to investigate.
That evening, Michelle dreams of a pagoda under a bulbous moon, and what appears to be the woman she has painted, seemingly telling her to run before dark, red eyed birds swarm down from the night sky. Awaking shaken, Michelle recalls the feelings she had experienced.
Alongside the mystery unfolding in the panels are exposition pages giving the story of The White Snake Maiden, Bai Suzhen (who Michelle has painted), an ancient snake spirit, her friend and kindred spirit Xiao Qing, The Green Snake Maiden, and a romance that Bai Suzhen has with a human man, Xu Xian, whom she eventually marries. This union soon draws the attention of a powerful Buddhist Monk, Fa Hai, who finds the coupling potentially harmful to that natural order of things.
Returning to our cast the following day, they arrive at the antique shop, where, Jason’s grandparents greet him (and tease him a little) and his friends, Jason’s grandpa giving a recitation of what the exposition pages have told, but completes the tale, about how Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian met and fell in love, how Fa Hai separated them, and how Xiao Qing rectified the situation with her own efforts.
After this, Jason, Sabrina, and Michelle look around the shop, discovering the exact same painting Michelle had painted under a tarp. Before they can debate what this could mean, the Phoenix Jason had seen the day prior shows up, zaps the painting, and turns it into a portal that sucks all three of them in.
They awake outside, and are soon waylaid by shadowy wolves, but are aided by the Phoenix from before, giving them calligraphy brushes that they can paint Kanji into the air with, creating elemental magic when they do.
Defeating the wolves, the Phoenix is introduced as Xiao Fenghuang, revealing that they are, in fact, in Ancient China, and that the timeline of the era has been tampered with. Xiao has brought them back in time by orders of the Jade Emperor, and cannot return them until they have helped set the timeline straight. Left with little choice, our cast of heroes somewhat reluctantly taking up the quest of restoring things to normal, while figuring out the powers they have acquired. The adventure continues from there.
Targeting a YA audience, JTMK is an adventure with a great sense of fun, direction, and momentum. The intrigue and humor at the start keeping the reader glued until the action kicks in. If you are a fan of Nickelodeon’s Avatar The Last Airbender, and the 2008 film The Forbidden Kingdom, then this is a must read. Simply put, a Journey To The Middle Kingdom is well worth taking!
Support JTMK’s second issue, The Princess of Yelang, for print here. Otherwise, read the ongoing adventures on the official site, with new chapters dropping on Wednesdays, and Fridays. Yes, they have merch!
Until next time, Blando out!
*Images used with the permission of the creators