Many, many hands are wrung all the time about the dearth of original ideas in the world, and how to create something new. Sometimes the answer lies in simply combining elements from existing genres – supernatural detectives, alien spies, pop witches. And while the results of these mashups can be a lot of fun and, yes, original, sometimes a better route is to take an existing genre and subtract things from it.
Travelogue is an epic fantasy adventure, minus the epic, minus the adventure. The result is something soft, thoughtful, and completely new: a fantasy diary comic. It follows the tiny wizard Nana’s travels with their companions Adi and Emerene, doing odd jobs here and there, making brief connections with those they meet and deep connections with each other.
The typical trappings of a fantasy setting are present, but relaxed. The atmosphere Pandya creates is contemplative and a bit cute; while it lacks tension or struggle, it also lacks a plot that would require such things – it’s just not that kind of story. Where habitual readers of fantasy might expect to see magic users compare their powers in fireball-filled combat, Travelogue gives us a quiet campsite conversation between Nana and Emerene about their differing methods of lighting a campfire. Instead of fighting the wolves who accost them at night, nature-attuned Nana befriends them. The most violence is when the three travellers spar with each other to stay fit, and the most conflict is when Nana tries to make Emerene wake up early to watch the sunrise with them.
Nana is cute, there’s no point beating around that bush. They’re tiny and snuggly, talk to animals, get excited about things, and generally get mistaken for a child. But through their journal, we meet an introspective and wise person, motivated less by wanderlust than by the joy of learning and helping people. It’s not clear how Nana met Adi and Emerene, or why they do the work they do, or even what, exactly, Nana is, but that’s fine; it’s refreshing to read a fantasy story that isn’t completely up its own ass with worldbuilding and dramatic backstory revelations. Like our travelling heroes, Travelogue doesn’t have a specific destination, nor any hurry to get there. Whenever we get around to learning these things, it will surely be the right time.
Travelogue is a story about love. Nana’s love for the animals they meet, the places they pass through, and the land they walk on are the subject of many of their travelogue entries. But of equal importance is the love that Nana develops for their companions through their journeys. While it seems that Nana prefers the company of creatures and plants to the tangled and unfamiliar expectations of other people – a feeling I can identify with – they obviously care deeply for their tall friends, comforting Emerene in a moment of tortured remembrance and cuddling Adi when they wake to find her crying one night. It’s also obvious that they return Nana’s love, caring for their small friend and conspiring to buy them presents. There’s no romance, nor any need for it – the strength of the bond their trek has forged is touching enough to have made me tear up more than once.
Like Computer Love and Star Trip, Travelogue is emblematic of the kinds of stories that mainstream comics and genre fiction discourage but webcomics enable, taking a familiar nerd genre and de-bro-ifying it. My hope is that as more and more stories like these are created that center the voices of non-dude, non-white, and non-cishet people, comics like Travelogue will come to define the genre, rather than being discussed in comparison to it.
Final verdict: This comic is peaceful and soothing, and it’s the perfect thing to read (and reread) whenever you need to chill and think about nice things for a while.