Council of Frogs by Matt EmmonsThe Council of Frogs
Written and illustrated by Matt Emmons
Published by Second At Best Press

A world of long afters. Can’t call it an age of chivalry because the knights are all agents of destruction. And the protagonist is a frog, not a warrior. What use does a frog have for the clashing swords of men? Yet The Council of Frogs insists that our worlds are connected. Matt Emmons sends a message from one wizard to another, the medium a lovingly printed graphic novel, its courier a fine little fellow.

To be honest, it doesn’t feel like a frog problem. There are ecological considerations in The Council of Frogs, but its real concern is with parenthood. The frogs that form the council are born from the magic inside a bog-corpse. Mom was the swamp and Dad is a Lich. The wizard, from candlelit grave, strives to fulfill his responsibility as a guardian. Though they don’t speak, his frog family all act like little people. Our hero is an amphibian, yes, but first an adventurer.

If the protagonist cannot speak, the comic has a good chance of being utterly delightful (I’m thinking of you, Mirenda). The wanderer is free to roam, and out business as reader is simply to enjoy the journey. Actually, there are several characters who can talk, and do, some not enough, some too much. The frog is the perfect foil for an over-explaining unlikely comrade. An anti-social wizard being given the silent treatment instead of doling it out (mercilessly) is an enchanting character dynamic. Emmons pulls off a neat trick, getting plenty of good dialog from one-sided conversations.

The setting is a strong character in the mix, as well. The Council has an After the Fall setting, sword and sorcery and technology muddled together, mostly as aftermath of the past. The world feels thought out, though we’re only shown it in glimpses. The reader is made to feel the effects of history instead of learning the specifics. When the comic is silent, the world is speaking. The feeling I get in general is more like The Secret of NIMH than Watership Down. All three stories are about the safety of the voiceless. Council of Frogs is just very literal about it. Its silent stretches remind me more of The Dark Crystal. Jim Henson, the king of fake nature documentaries, also loved to make the unreal real by giving it room to breathe.

Saying goodbye to homeThe look of the book is very throwback, arrived at through modern means. There’s a ceramic fondue pot earth tone over everything that reads visually retro. But Emmons is a multidisciplinary cartoonist, bringing printmaking concepts into his creative process. Emmons is a riso studio poster person and you can feel it, not just in the palette, but literally in the paper stock and embossed cover. Take a close look at the art- the lines are done in pencil. You wouldn’t find contours without ink back in the day. But I think the texture of the pencils adds a subtle softness.

There are definitely ways in which Emmons tips his hand that this is a book from today and not the 1970s. The Council of Frogs has got to be the last book I was ever expecting to see a mech battle in. Yet fate throws a curveball. The devout pilgrim on a sacred spot, armor filled with hallowed earth. And while you might not believe a bog knight can fight, I know a frog who does.

The frog, the Lich, the bugbear, the witch, the warlock, the mage-hunter. Strong in personality, distinct in presence, the characters Emmons designs are just great. They have the life of a thousand tiny details. See the things that dangle from the many-armed witch’s hat! Those tiny bells that sound when magic comes close, tie it to your leg. Your hat is the cup of a flower, though you don’t care to wear it. The castle beckons from the horizon.

I’ve got to make the rare Hayao Miyazaki comparison where Council of Frogs doesn’t look the part but feels like him. The message comes on the side, the reason is the journey. The characters, unlikely and unforgettable, in incongruous combinations that get on like a house on fire. Abundance of personality is the only place where Emmons goes maximalist. Council is the aesthetic of hanging on. Stragglers and bandits and bare scrub badlands.

Frog Probs

I love how lived-in the world is in this book. But the read isn’t contingent on how well Council crafts a living mythology. The frog faces adventure on a shifting size scale. The sense that I get of the setting is rich because it has a ton of history- history I’ll never know. But the frog is a small guy. Don’t need backstory to make a tiny fight with a scorpion exciting. The big and small ultimately come together in Council of Frogs, partners in a cycle. The beginning was an end, it only seems fair that the ending begets another story. Cue the ominous sound of armored boots in the swamp. Good luck, little guy.

You can get a copy of The Council of Frogs directly from Second at Best Press, or wherever finer niche comics and books are sold.