Locked in the jail of a town under siege after it’s leader the fanatic Margrave Olbrecht rebelled against the king, Wilfred is in a tricky spot. Fortunately, Wilfred finds help from a prison guard who’s not so happy with the Margrave’s rebellion. The guard lets Wilfred free with the understanding they’ll bring outside help. Soon Wilfred finds themself tangling with a group of knights led by the intense Oswald, and is aiding the company free the city. What no one knows though, are the mysterious Wilfred’s true motivations or how dangerous she can be.
Knights Errant is a webcomic by Jennifer Doyle. Set in an ersatz middle-ages, the comic’s plot focuses on the political tension between religions analogous to the Abrahamic religions. The text of the comic offers very little exposition, so it can be difficult to understand some world elements in the beginning (it’s only till I read the glossary of terms in the back of the kickstarted print edition that I was finally clear on which term meant what). What is most compelling about Knights Errant is not the world but it’s characters, and how they are revealed to the audience.
Wilfred is an enigmatic protagonist. Despite appearing perpetually chipper, the more time the reader spends with Wilfred, the more it is apparent how dangerous she is. Doyle is very skilled at holding information back and letting it go in small bursts, which allows their characters to be shocking. Because the audience is never clear how much of Wilfred’s joviality is a mask, there’s a real suspense to how she’ll react. Both the world and the characters Doyle has created are capable of sudden violence.
This is all achieved and enhanced by Doyle’s astounding ability with expressions. Doyle’s art is lovely to look at. They’re characters are all very attractive, and the limited color pallet of the comic is simple but very effective at making the work cohesive and aesthetically appealing. What Doyle really excels at is subtle shifts in expression. Perhaps counter-intuitively, subtle expressions can be more emotionally charged than exaggerated ones, especially when combined with smart panel layouts. For example, take this two-page scene where Wilfred spots the Margrave as they are escaping. (full size here)
Very little happens here. One character leans forward and another suspects he’s being watched. However, with the color, the expressions, and Doyle’s intuitive sense of pacing, you can almost hear the Kill Bill sirens in the background. This is apparent in many of Doyle’s short stories, such as Coping Mechanism, written by Ursula Wood, which has become available on Taptastic and I recommend checking out.
I’ve danced around the queer content of Knights Errant because I didn’t want that to be the focus of the entire review though the queerness of Knight Errant is very important to the comic. Doyle has stated that one of the motivations for creating Knights Errant is “having space for queer characters to be morally gray and/or awful and go on adventures.” The cast of Knights Errant is filled with LGBTQ characters. The sexual and gender identities of these characters inform them but do not solely define them. Often works featuring queer characters get their drama from the queerness, or portray these characters as lily white. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for these stories, but it’s a breath of fresh air to read a story where queer characters are allowed to be terrible, complicated people without the burden of being a good role model. And really, for those of us with a love of Tarrantino-esque violence, it’s a lot more fun.
A quick note: When looking up Knights Errant, you might come across mention of an earlier comic. The current version of KE is actually a reboot of an older comic by Doyle that is no longer available. While I read the earlier version of KE and enjoyed it quite a lot, the current iteration is much more mature and, in general, better. Doyle has improved a lot since the first KE began, and it’s clear they’re still improving. They’re someone to look out for in the comics world.
Knights Errant is a part of Sparkler Monthly. It is updated Tuesday and Thursday.