“East of Byzantium: War Gods” Brings History to Life

Rebecca Krueger, Staff Writer

In Roger Kupelian’s first graphic novel, “East of Byzantium: War Gods,” the images are a combination of photographs and his award-winning paintings digitally infused together to tell a historical story of a cursed kingdom that has to “carve out its heart to remain whole.”

“War Gods” is off to a rough start because of the lack of emotion shown in the facial expressions of the main characters. Princess Cosro seemed oddly calm and logical for being no more than 10-years-old, while she watched her city burn along with her parents in it. But read on for a few pages and the story will surely draw the reader in.

“War Gods” narration is perfect, informative and subtle. The dialogue is often romanticized, but it’s easily understood and once the reader gets involved in the story, the dialogue becomes natural.

Kupelian took a very different and innovative approach for the art of War Gods.

Many comic books are drawn with a thick black outline for characters and backgrounds. Solid basic colors fill these outlines, unless they are left in black and white. They generally have simple backgrounds.

It might take readers who are accustomed with the basic comic book layout a minute to adjust to Kupelian’s different artistic approach. When the reader adjusts the colors fade into the background accenting the emotions of the characters. The characters are also drawn with a soft outline rather than a solid and sharp outline.

The story mainly follows Princess Cosro. After she is saved and raised by Armenia’s high priest, Artzan, she is reunited with her older brother and rightful heir to the throne, Tiridates. Upon her reunion with her brother she meets Gregory. Gregory is a Christian and Tiridates’s healer, as well as a member of his counsel. Together they win Armenia back from the invading Persians.

Once Tiridates is reinstated, the well-being of Armenia becomes a reflection of the king’s mental health. While Gregory keeps Tiridates sane and responsible, Artzan provokes Tiridates to succumb to his own vices, slowly diminishing his sense of humanity and grasp on reality.

It’s a historical story about what actually occurred in the third century, and how these remarkable people held onto faith and loyalty during an unstable time surrounded by betrayal, greed, and a struggle for power.

Kupelian’s character development is engaging, but the graphic novel would have greatly benefited if there was more time spent on personal development to strengthen the connection and understanding between the character and the reader.

“War Gods” feels like the prequel of Kupelian’s graphic novel series, setting up the backstory for the volumes to come. He indicated that the second novel will be focused on St. Vartan Mamigonian. Hopefully there will be more time spent on St. Vartan’s character development with Kupelian’s focus on one main character, rather than four.

With more of Kupelian’s well written dialogue and personal perception of Armenia’s history St. Vartan should come to life in his upcoming graphic novel “Warrior Saints”.

Readers await a St. Vartan that is not only an extraordinary individual, but who is also as flawed and imperfect as the rest of us.

Kupelian did well for his first attempt in the comic book world, but readers are expecting an even more intricate and visually appealing story for “Warrior Saints”.

“War Gods” is available online at Amazon.com.