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While I’m wary (to put it mildly) of throwing around trite phrases like “breakout artist” and “hot new cartoonist,” it sure seems like Sam Alden has a certain enthusiasm building around him in indie circles. Reading Wicked Chicken Queen, it’s not hard to see why. Whatever your initial reaction might be on glancing at that title, I can tell you I didn’t expect anything nearly as graceful, thoughtful and moving as this comic turned out to be.
Ostensibly a folk tale, Wicked Chicken Queen tells the story of an island community made of people with eyeballs for heads (sort of). A mysterious egg is found, and the chick inside is raised by the king to become the next ruler. Generations pass and the queen fowl is forgotten, only to return once more, angry and horrible. But in her wake, a sorrow and grief is revealed.
But Alden’s art is the real draw here. Eschewing panels, and seemingly drawing upon medieval manuscripts and Native American art by way of Joan Miro (or perhaps Hieronymus Bosch), Alden creates these fantastic full-page tableaus, where characters and landscapes of various sizes overlap and crisscross each other in crazy-quilt fashion, shifting between cartoonish approximations and hyper-realized detail.
Unconventional in both structure and story, Chicken Queen is nonetheless a surprisingly touching comic that shows Alden is worthy of at least some of all that enthusiasm.