ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS by Vincent Pompetti
ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS by Vincent Pompetti is an ambitious fantasy sci-fi graphic novel with outstanding world-building. While the artwork is beyond talented, the story tends to move a little too fast.
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ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS is a comic which blends the science fiction genre with the fantasy genre. Both genres are hard to master, so combining them is certainly an ambitious feat. Writer and illustrator Vincent Pompetti clearly has a deep well of creativity that he pours into ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS. However, he also succumbs to the common pitfalls of complex stories.

In this comic, Onys recently escaped her planet and abusive, overbearing father who planned to marry her off. Now, ominous dreams featuring a gruesome creature are haunting her. When she wakes up, however, the creature turns out to be more than a dream. Fortunately, Onys is not alone. Captain Mike comes to investigate Onys’ sister’s death, but follows Onys along the twisting path of revelations that unfold. Yulunga, a mysterious shaman, comes to Onys’ rescue when the creature attacks. She proceeds to unravel ancient secrets about the power of one’s subconscious, which leads Onys to facing her own truths and embracing her own personal strength.

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Stellar World Building

Though the pillars of science fiction and fantasy pretty firmly entwine in this comic, I’d say that ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS leans a little more heavily on the sci-fi. Pompetti maps out the alliances and politics of planets, and the architecture and technology are more scientific, rather than fantastical. However, there is some planetary architecture and technology that appear to be love letters to fantasy. At one point, the sharp angles of a triangular tunnel lead Onys to a place with round, parallel towers that appear to glow amidst watery cliffs and greenery. There is incredible atmospheric detail in ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS. It’s certainly one of the major strengths of this graphic novel.

Image courtesy of Black Panel Press.

Admittedly, part of me was partially distracted throughout the comic, categorizing elements of the story into one genre or another. However, Pompetti does a wonderful job of seamlessly blending elements. Very little manages to fit in neat boxes with clear labels, and yet so much feels so natural and organic. Much of the world-building that centers around the shaman Yulunga stands out as particularly fetching. She introduces us to the concept of emotion and consciousness as factors in the determination of reality. Really, magic is just science that people don’t understand. ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS wholly embraces the unknown element of facts waiting to be discovered.


Too Much Too Fast

On the other hand, all of the amazing world-building in ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS came a little too hard and fast to me. Personally, I think this is a story which would have been better served as a series. The uniqueness makes it difficult to keep track of a world that is unlike anything else ever seen before. When there’s no template for comparison, I think readers need a little more time for digestion.

Image courtesy of Black Panel Press.

This comic’s pace never slows, and, while it’s exciting, my understanding of the story suffers from it. I want more time to get to know the characters before things get too heavy. While I love what Yulunga brings to the table with her wisdom and positivity, I feel like I don’t get enough from leading lady Onys. We get glimpses into her past as the graphic novel goes on, but we never really see much of who she truly is as a person until the end.

I want to understand the planet of Plaine before I start discovering new locations, too. The plot moves from confronting a creature to Onys being framed as a leader of a rebellion on her home planet. Two very big plotlines in one graphic novel was too much for me to swallow. One hundred sixty-eight pages may sound like a lot, but when the story is as complex as this one, they fly right by. It was hard for me to grasp on to something tangible.


Extraordinary Artwork

Without a doubt, the artwork in ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS is its strongest element. I always say that I’m a sucker for a good spacescape, and this comic delivers. Each time that the characters travel from location to location, we see their ship leaving a planet behind, surrounded by a sea of stars. The soft flecks of stars are my favorite — they make the often scary darkness of space feel inviting.

As beautiful as some of these panels can be, other panels are just as breathtaking for how scary they are. As seen in the panel below, the creature is amorphous and towering. It dwarfs the heroes and muddies the beautiful scenes with dark, drab colors.

Image courtesy of Black Panel Press.

The watercolor style of the story makes it feel both ancient and temporally distant. The energy that Yulunga claims can contort reality feels present and palpable amongst the soft colors. Pompetti’s art pulls you into the uncertainty and wonder of the world he’s creating.

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It’s true that the graphic novel is hard to grasp, but I think that, ultimately, Pompetti should receive high praise for his ambition. This isn’t a comic that I would recommend to anyone who is just dipping their toes into science fiction-fantasy. However, I’d definitely spread the word of this incredibly unique story to passionate lovers of these often intricate genres.

Buy ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS from Black Panel Press here!

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