While it can be said that I am passionate about all reading, it is particularly true that I am passionate about reading graphic novels. Just as it is with any medium, format, or genre (graphic novels have many genres but are considered a format), graphic novels have their fair share of bad stories and good stories. I’d like to share two of the latter with you.
Jorge Aguirre’s Dragons Beware, the second in his “Chronicles of Claudette” series (but able to be read on its own), is the story of a whip-smart young girl who craves excitement in her life. Underwhelmed by the safety of her fortressed village, plucky heroine Claudette is in desperate need of an adventure and things aren’t much better for the rest of her gang. Her younger brother Gaston is struggling to be the warrior he thinks his father Augustine wants him to be and her friend Marie, a princess-in-training, is being protectively held hostage in a tower by her own mother. However, things don’t stay quiet for long. The adventure soon finds the trio when the menacing sorcerer Grombach escapes from captivity and threatens the peace of Mont Petit Pierre. In order to stop Grombach’s villainous efforts to rise to power, the group must set off to the Grim Grotto to battle Azra the Atrocious, the fearsome dragon who stripped Augustine of the magical sword that defeated Grombach once before. If Claudette, Gaston, and Marie are to succeed in overcoming Azra, reclaiming the magical sword, and defeating Grombach, they’ll have to embrace their strengths and work together. Soothing earth-tones accentuated by vivid pops of color complement this fast-paced, humorous adventure that is full of heart and action. Although Claudette often champions rash decision-making and recklessness, her bravery and can-do attitude admirably stand out and will give young girls a strong female figure to look up to. In a world where boys are most often championed as the heroes and girls as the victims waiting to be rescued, I found this turnaround to be an extremely refreshing change of pace. Additionally, Gaston and Marie’s storylines deftly convey the importance of being true to oneself – without becoming preachy or aggressive- and provide a milder point of connection for those youth who don’t see themselves in Claudette.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll brings together a collection of spine-tingling stories that harken back to the macabre fairy tales of the pre-Disney long ago. Nestled within the pages are five short horror stories, related by the terror invoked in us by things that go bump in the night and the horrific possibilities of gnarled and twisted woods: a father who disappears within them, leaving his three daughters to survive on their own; a woman chased into them so that she may avoid the terrors of her home; a brother killed within them out of jealousy; a thoughtless joke, discussed inside them, turned haunting; and a nesting place for the creatures of your nightmares. Borrowing hints and elements from such classics as Bluebeard and Little Red Riding Hood, Carroll rather deftly combines vintage images with modern stories that have a feeling of timelessness. As I was working my way through the stories, I was filled with an unending sense of dread and despair; in my heart of hearts, I knew, as in old-school fairy tales, there would be no happy endings within these pages. The imagery itself is at times striking with its highly contrasting black and white with streaks of red – weaving blood and gore throughout the stories- while managing to effectively use soft, smoky styles to contrast with the sharpness of the violence. With all that said, if there is a weakness to be found in this collection, it was that I had to read it in multiple sittings to avoid the feeling of sameness and the occasional predictability of the stories.