For two hundred years, the island of May has been free of dragons after humans brought them down and wiped them from existence—or so they thought. When a dragon suddenly appears, preying on livestock and people, the villagers must put their trust in a healer’s daughter and a wannabe hero to save them all.
Adapted from her short story Dragonfield, renowned storyteller Jane Yolen breathes new life into the tale in this comic adaptation. Yolen is ably helped in this task by artist Rebecca Guay, best known for her work for the Magic: The Gathering card game, who brings The Last Dragon to life visually. Yolen has always had a knack for storytelling and world-building, and those strengths have seamlessly translated themselves into a graphic novel. Right off the bat we’re given a brief history of the battle that ended the dragons’ reign over the island of May, which sets the tone for the rest of the book. We also meet female protagonist Tansy, who is a strong female character that doesn’t fit the mold of what society and her family expect her to be. She doesn’t wait around to be saved, but goes out and saves herself. It’s refreshing to see this gender reversal in a genre so greatly accustomed to making its female characters the victims of the story, not the heroes. She is likeable without being arrogant and someone the reader can stand behind in her quest to save her village.
Similarly, Yolen does a great job of developing flawed characters that have more than one dimension to them and are relatable in their struggles, no matter how minor they are to the plot. One such character is the would-be hero Lancot, who is hired to take down the dragon, but ends up not being what he says he is. What Yolen does so beautifully with this character is lead the reader to think they’ve got him figured out, but then breaks him out of his expected stereotype role and surprises us. Lancot completely owns up to his shortcomings and aids Tansy in her journey to killing the dragon without any ounce of selfishness or ulterior motive—he just genuinely wants to help her.
The one pitfall to The Last Dragon is how simple and straightforward it is. The plot is very familiar and one we’ve seen time and time again. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it would have been nice to see more risks being taken. However, this doesn’t take anything away from Yolen’s phenomenal storytelling ability.
Deserving just as much praise for bringing this story to life is Guay. Her artwork is what ties everything together and helps the story successfully make the jump from the written word to the illustrated page. Guay’s art gives the story an element of grandeur and transports the reader to another time. The use of soft red and gold tones throughout the art channels the Middle Ages and is reminiscent of ancient, woven tapestries that told stories of their own. Guay’s linework is carefully chosen throughout each panel to reflect the emotions felt by the characters and to draw attention to key elements of the story. One cool feature to her art is the fact she doesn’t fully clean up her sketches and leaves traces of the original linework in the panels—it adds a rawness to the story. She also doesn’t use many wider establishing shots, but when she does, they create such an impact that they become cinematic and true pieces of art. It’s no wonder she is often celebrated and so highly regarded. Together with Yolen, they work harmoniously as one to bring this tale to its stunning conclusion.
While this story is by no means anything new, nor does it reinvent the genre, it’s still a great read. The Last Dragon is targeted at ages Teen and up, but audiences as young as Middle Grade can enjoy it as well. Certain scenes where the dragon is killing livestock might be frightening to some, but it’s not shown in a graphic nature.
The Last Dragon
by Jane Yolen
Art by Rebecca Guay
Dark Horse, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult