Jane Yolen is a hugely popular and prolific author of fiction for kids and young adults. She’s won a Caldecott, a couple Nebulas, and a slew of other awards. Given her talent and stature, I was pretty surprised to read on her blog that she’d spent years trying to convince someone to let her adapt one of her short stories into a comic. But after Yolen made her graphic novel debut with 2010’s Foiled, the comics industry was more receptive to her ideas and this September Dark Horse published The Last Dragon, written by Yolen and illustrated by Rebecca Guay.
The story is set on the islands of May where, centuries ago, humans hunted dragons to extinction. However, near the village of Meddlesome, one dragon egg has survived all these years, hidden among the roots of an old tree. When the tree dies and topples over, the egg is exposed and hatches. As the young dragon grows in the woods it snatches some livestock and even eats the village healer. The healer’s clever daughter Tansy has some reason to suspect a dragon, but doesn’t want to speak up until she’s certain. Once the dragon’s spotted, the village hires Lancot, a dashing young hero, to kill the beast, but slaying a dragon is no mean feat, even for a hero. Tansy and Lancot must work together if they’re to defeat the monster and save the village.
The story is chock full of familiar tropes and archetypes, so very little of it is surprising or novel, exactly, but Yolen’s an old hand at fantasy and fairy tales and everything’s familiar in all the right ways. She starts the book with a few short prose passages describing the history of her world, written and presented as if they come from a historical tome that later shows up in Tansy’s village. She then spends several pages describing the dragon’s hatching and quickly-developing strength and ferocity while Guay cleverly avoids giving a clear view of the creature, focusing instead on large claw marks in the dirt or the bones of a devoured animal. By the time I got to the introduction of the book’s human characters I was completely engrossed and full of dread.
Rebecca Guay is well known to fans of fantasy art and her work here is gorgeous. Her lush pre-Raphaelite watercolors look like a fairy tale should, with lots of flowing robes and hair, dramatic lighting, and a monster both threatening and beautiful. Nearly every page is as sumptuous and inviting as the book’s cover, which is a rare feat in comics. At the same time, she doesn’t get so caught up in composing an attractive page that she forgets to let her characters be vibrant and emotive from panel to panel.
All manner of fantastic and supernatural subjects are popular in comics and novels at the moment, but Yolen was doing excellent work in the genre before the current boom and will no doubt continue to do so after some new fad comes along. She and Guay have produced a book sure to please both old fans and new readers. Readers new to Yolen’s work are in for a particular treat, because after they finish The Last Dragon they’ll have nearly 300 other books to read and enjoy.