A review by Amelia Wellman
Every now and again you come upon a webcomic that makes you stop and wonder why the creators are doing this for free. The story is solid, the visuals are beautiful, a tonne of work goes into every little detail, and you just can’t help but feel you’re doing something wrong by reading it for free on the web. Rising Sand is one of those webcomics.
Erj is a world kept alight by a sun that has orbited faithfully since recorded memory, but now, that faith is faltering. In Rising Sand, a band of extraordinarily unlikely heroes will try and keep the sky itself from falling while facing threats they could never have imagined.
So, you know, the usual.
The characters that lead the way through it all (at least so far) are thirteen year old Dal, a professional thief in the dying city of Ras Huran; Qebrus, Dal’s partner, playing the muscle for a cut of her spoils; and Ro, Dal’s older and aggressive sister.
Dal is the main focus. She’s got a peg leg, is rare among her people (the Sylph) for being able to breathe in ash (an airborne particulate that’s ubiquitous throughout most of the land of Erj), and is just the cutest little thing! Her elf-like ears, freckles, and huge shiny eyes mean she gets away with a lot. Which is good when you’re a professional criminal.
Qebrus and Ro command the panels they’re in for stature and anger, respectively. Slowly being revealed with each page uploaded is the relationship that Dal shares with both. From a select few flashbacks, we’ve already seen that Dal has always had a hard relationship with her sister Ro. What culminated to force Dal to leave her family and set up shop as a thief with Qebrus has yet to be revealed, but I’m dying to see what happens!
Overall, the story of Rising Sand is some of the most intricately detailed fantasy that I’ve ever read. Think Lord of the Rings levels of the day-to-day life information that we as the reader are provided. Seems like a ridiculous amount to take in from a webcomic, but, unlike Lord of the Rings where you read every last song the Hobbits sing whether you like it or not, Rising Sand offers the extra information in text below each page. For those curious about anything from the history of the land, the religions and lore, the infrastructure of cities, or even the flora and fauna, check every update for an amazing insight into the parts of the story not vocalized on the page but ingrained into the lives of the characters.
Conversely, if you’re not interested in an expanded history (though I’m not sure why you wouldn’t be?), they are completely optional reading and don’t need to be read to enjoy or understand what happens in the comic. The passages are there to add to the story but skipping them doesn’t detract from it. That’s pretty damn impressive.
What’s already my favourite part of Rising Sand is the mythology, or religion as it is to the characters. The religions of the world seem to all have the same base of the goddess Nyue and her mother Ybris, with each region worshipping different aspects of the myth. Some worship Nyue because she’s the god of existence but others worship Ybris because she’s the god of nonexistence and others still have reasons in-between the two. There is just so much to learn about it all and that makes Erj feel like a living, breathing world. Off the top of my head I can distinctly remember that the passage under page eleven is some fascinating and fleshed out religion related stuff.
Of course all the extra passages are vividly fleshed out, so if the religions don’t do it for you, maybe the incestuous economy will, or the strange fauna of the desert world. Every aspect of the world is yours to learn about if you’re interested.
The art of Rising Sand is spectacular. So much detail in every single thing. From the bustling marketplaces full of people and products, to character expressions and actions, your eye will be drawn in a thousand different directions as you try to absorb it all. It can almost be overwhelming in a “holy crap look how much love and care went into every last thing” sort of way.
And when I say love and care, I mean love and care beyond what most parents give to their children! Dunitz and Lee obviously love their creation and have no doubt suffered and laboured to make it perfect. The shadows that fall across the sun-bleached landscape, Dal’s big, shiny eyes, the skin and cloth textures–it’s all just so monumentally impressive! Quite literally jaw-dropping!
I’m just in awe of how much thought went into the overall design of Rising Sand. The designs of objects are, and I quote from the creators themselves, “inelegant”, but it’s all done on purpose. Since no new products are coming into the dead port city, people use what they can to make what they need. This is another bit of information put into the passages below the panels and it’s just such a brilliant way to bring order to chaos. Once you’ve read about it, you can’t help but see it in the comic itself.
The lettering is just as beautiful as the visuals. I don’t often find cause to talk about lettering in comics. Not that I’m saying lettering isn’t as important as everything else, just that the vast majority of comic lettering is standard because there’s no way to stylize it to the story. That’s not the case in Rising Sand! The text is some of the most gorgeous stylization I’ve ever seen. The letter “A” is often written without the middle line so that it’s just a triangle, it a brilliant way to imply that the language of this world isn’t English even if we’re reading it as such. Words also change colour to (I believe) denote a different tone or language from the rest of what the character is saying. It’s simple but highly effective. I’ve honestly never been more struck by lettering than I was here.
Read it! And follow it! Check back obsessively each week for new updates! Rising Sand is unlike any other webcomic I’ve ever seen. Its world is vast, detailed, and beautiful beyond belief. Every little feature has been thought through with astounding detail even though it’s not necessarily stuff you have to know to enjoy the narrative. Dunitz and Lee have created something magical with Rising Sands and fans of all genres should check in regularly for updates!