Originally a novel based on bizarre photographs found by the author, the story starts with Jacob’s grandfather telling fantastical tales of his childhood escaping monsters in Poland and moving to an orphanage in Wales protected by a bird who smoked a pipe. He also had pictures of his friends from the orphanage, called “peculiars,” doing impossible things, like levitating and picking up boulders with one hand. Later, Jacob’s dad explains that his father had to go to the Welsh orphanage after escaping the Nazis during World War II, and Jacob stops believing in the peculiars and the monsters. However, this all changes when Jacob finds his grandfather dying in the woods and sees a horrific monster nearby. This starts Jacob on a journey to discover his grandfathers’ past and the truth of the peculiars.
The story itself is peculiar, with a high level of whimsy for something that covers such dark topics. The original novel has an eerie feel that is replicated in the graphic version, but some of the foreboding buildup is lost with the faster pace of the graphic novel. The text in this version has been abridged, losing some of the detail and character development, but other pieces require more exposition. This leads to a few text heavy pages. However, the adaptation remains fairly faithful while holding its own as a compelling standalone read.
The art is where this graphic novel really shines. The original prose novel uses creepy vintage pictures that the author unearthed at various thrift stores and collections. These photos are interspersed within the text and are directly referenced by characters, though they are on separate pages from the text. In the graphic novel, however, the pictures are so interwoven with the other images that they provide a seamless transition from the “real” to the drawn. There are also clever pops of color that change the mood of the scenes in an interesting way.
As someone who loved the first version of this story, I didn’t know how I would feel about the graphic novel. However, I enjoyed seeing the vision of the authors in the drawings. Certain elements, like the wonderfully detailed back stories, were lost in this version, but the harmonious integration of the photographs with evocative imagery gives the book its own spin. It’s bizarre and fun, a unique exploration of an already unique premise.