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Review: Death Vigil By Stjepan Šejić

Review: Death Vigil By Stjepan Šejić


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Created by: Stjepan Šejić
Art by: Stjepan Šejić
Colours by: Stjepan Šejić
Letters by: Stjepan Šejić
Published by: Image – Top Cow

“What if someone told the story of a young rookie getting drawn into a world of magic and fantasy that she didn’t even know existed, a world where a team of Reapers wage a never-ending battle against an evil Lovecraftian group of Necromancers?”

It sounds like something that’s been done to death, but Stjepan Šejić is able to tie together endearing characters and his wonderful eye for design to create something that ends up as something much more than the sum of its parts.

Death Vigil primarily tells the story of Samuel Lewis and his Death Vigil 001-003journey with the Death Vigil, the name given to the army of Reapers operating under Lady Death herself. The story opens with Samuel bleeding to death in a dark alley, having been injured while protecting two girls from a thief. At the point of passing over, he wakes up again in that same alley to meet Death, here called Bernadette. Flash forward 12 years and Samuel is still going strong in the Vigil, where his daily activities include fighting necromancers and sealing their powers. At this point, he is also charged with helping the newest member of the Vigil, a girl named Clara, to come to grips with life in the Vigil and the new powers she has been granted as a reaper.

Šejić does an amazing job of fleshing out each of the characters he introduces. The Vigil actually feels like one big family. The character introductions have a really nice flow and since they’re presented as Samuel introducing everyone to Clara, it helps avoid the sense of unnecessary exposition that usually comes with the introduction of a long string of characters. At the same time, he doesn’t feel the need to give everyone’s entire back story right off the bat. As the story goes on and as the focus switches to being on Clara as much as on Samuel, we get to find out more about each person in the group; they honestly do feel like real people rather than generic soldiers in a magic army. The revelations are never that everyone has some unknown, deep dark secret, but more that X likes to read and Y loves playing the piano. The members of the Vigil get to know Clara in the same way that any new friends would get to know each other. Death Vigil 01It works well to build affection for everyone involved and is much more effective than simply making a group of lone wolves, each fighting against the necromancers for their own personal reasons.

Samuel serves as narrator for 70% of the book, with the odd little look into background scenes for the reader from a 3rd person perspective. Thanks to Samuel’s charisma and humour, the tone of Death Vigil, although dark at times, remains mostly cheerful. The characters are charismatic, upbeat, and never take things too seriously. Death Vigil 001-009Their usual levity makes the contrast of the sadder moments all that more striking. Šejić never lets Death Vigil fall into the trap of having his characters in a constant state of depressed angst. After all, if a character’s default emotion is sad and mopey, it’s hard to care when suddenly another event causes them to be sadder and mopier.

There’s no doubt that Death Vigil is quite a dialog-heavy book, with lots of banter between the Vigil and the Necromancers while they fight, with plenty of other chats between its members while they’re at home. It’s a good thing then that Stjepan Šejić is a master of design when it comes to the pages. Every image has a wonderful flow to it and it’s clear that Šejić had each speech and thought bubble in mindDeath Vigil 001-007 when drawing them up. In fact, the bubbles are done in such a way as to add to the page, rather than just minimise their detraction. The colour and the shape of each outline helps sell the personality of whoever it’s attached to and the tails are laid in such a way as to draw the reader’s eye exactly where Šejić needs it to be.

To top everything off,Šejić’s art is simply fantastic. The detail he puts into each character is astounding and their facial expressions alone are almost enough to tell the story. Still, they manage it without being over the top or out-of-place in a scene. The detail on character faces goes a long way to making other facets of their design seem nearly effortless. The same effort goes into each Lovecraftian creature summoned up by the Necromancers; each tentacle and fang perfectly drawn out to avoid the demons becoming a mess of squiggled lines amid blotches of water colours. It’s really difficult to praise his art enough. The colours are vibrant and the light inking gives everything a sort of loose flow. Honestly, your eyes need this art in their lives.

At its core, Death Vigil is all about findingDeath Vigil 001-026 a family, a place to stay when you’ve lost everything and your life is in pieces. Samuel comes to the Vigil and finds some direction in his afterlife, learning about himself and getting a sense of focus he never had in life. Clara, meanwhile, comes in broken and alone, mostly in need of a few friends to help her feel human again. The theme continues with the villains, many of whom have joined the Necromancers just to feel a part of something. It can be hard not to sympathise with a few of them, which is yet another positive for Šejić’s well-rounded characters.

Truth be told, I almost didn’t pick up Death Vigil when it first popped up on the order list. While the story sounded like something I’d enjoy, it didn’t exactly resonate with originality. I almost didn’t pick up Rat Queens for the same reason, a series that Šejić is also now working on. In the case of Death Vigil (and Rat Queens), I’m very grateful that my better judgement made me pick it up. It’s since turned into one of my favourite comics of the past 12 months and made me a firm follower of Stjepan Šejić, both in terms of his work on comics and the fan art he releases online. I’d advise everyone to check out his DeviantArt page where he goes under the moniker Nebezial. The first two issues of Death Vigil are available for free there for anyone who wishes to check it out. He also has a second, much more NSFW, account where he publishes one of his other works, Sunstone, which is free of charge under the name Shiniez.

On the surface, Death Vigil may seem like nothing new, but it really is something special. Any fans of Buffy The Vampire SlayerSupernatural or Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch should certainly check it out but there’s a lot here for people who aren’t typically fans of the fantasy genre. The art and the character interactions alone bring plenty to the table for any comic fan, regardless of genre. If you’re looking for someone new to check out this year, make it Stjepan Šejić. You can’t go far wrong with someone who makes perfection look this easy.

You can’t go wrong with someone who makes perfection look this easy 10/10

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Death Vigil Vol.1 will release on May 27th 2015.
Death Vigil #6 is available now.