A Picture is Worth Less: Mawrth Valliis

Mawrth Vallis by EPHK

Published: July 21st, 2021
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Comics, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction
Format: Ebook
Length: 128 pages

Mawrth Valliis by EPHK has a gimmick: all of the dialog is in the “original Martian“, so you have to infer the story from the illustrations. However, nothing in the book itself actually explains the conceit; instead, all context is left to whatever marketing materials you’ve read before cracking the cover.

Personally, I don’t remember reading anything about it ahead of time. I definitely had no idea that the book would be filled with undecipherable dialog bubbles. In fact, I only know the characters are Martian because I read a summary afterwards, which also helped fill in some details about the otherwise minimal plot.

In broad strokes, the story is about a pilot (our hero, in white) who chases after an enemy pilot (in black, naturally) when her ship crashes. I say her because both pilots are drawn with feminine curves even though they are otherwise anonymous, nameless and faceless (at least at first). The chase leads them past myriad dangers into the underground world of Mars, which is full of dangerous secrets that change everything.

I did like the art, which is very striking and dynamic, but I also feel like the author’s style is best suited for alternative pinups or concert posters. When I searched for EPHK’s site, that’s basically what I found.

Unfortunately, non-verbal storytelling is not EPHK’s strong suit. I oftentimes felt lost reading the panels, which tend to trade frenetic pacing for clarity. I also thought that the Martian dialog bubbles were a distraction. My eyes were always drawn to them in a futile effort at understanding that only slowed down my reading.

Even still, I blew through this book in about ten or fifteen minutes at most. Mawrth Valliis is ultimately slight and really only interesting as an experiment in storytelling.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Edelweiss+ in return for an honest review.

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