The Late Child and Other Animals is an intriguing beast: a personal memoir of Marguerite Van Cook’s post-war British childhood that reads like lush fiction, segmented into seemingly unrelated stories that drift in and out of sharp focus. There’s a second-hand memory of her mother’s tragedies and losses during World War II, a countryside idyll, a predatory post-dance class encounter, and an adolescent summer spent in France. All of it seems to echo, again and again, that nature is at once brutal and breathtaking, and that human nature, too, can be both vicious and valorous.

The lingering feeling of The Late Child is sensual, especially of scentthe dry summer air heavy with the dust of wheat fields and wildflowers, musty, dark city streets with rain slowly pattering down, a feast to end all feasts in the French countryside. I could almost smell and taste and touch each of these moments because of the impressive visuals. James Romberger’s painterly illustration style full of dark flowing lines and rich, luscious colorwork fill each page of The Late Child, threatening to overwhelm you, immersing you in the experiences of her youth. The style initialy reminded me of Nate Powell’s intricate and immersive illustrations of Middle American adolescent despair in works like Swallow Me Whole, but Van Cook and Romberger’s mid-century English setting and elegiac intent gave it a very different feel.

If there is anything to complain about in this book, it’s that it is overly moody, and the moments don’t quite connect to one another. The stories are snapshots of a childhood rather than a memoir with a predictable arc. But there’s some truth to that perspectivelife being lived in fits and starts, particular moments in sharp relief against the murkiness of memory. The Late Child is powerful, lovely, and captures very well, both visually and conceptually, how growing up means learning to negotiate the wild emotional terrain of the world beyond one’s self, with all the injustice, danger, and delight that it stands to offer.

Note: Review corrected at the request of the reviewer and James Romberger, 05/24/2015

The Late Child and Other Animals
Written and colored by Marguerite Van Cook

Adapted and drawn by James Romberger
ISBN: 9781606997895
Fantagraphics, 2014

  • Emilia Packard

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Emilia has been reading graphic novels rabidly since her best friend handed her Craig Thompson’s Blankets over winter break during her sophomore year of college. From that day, her fate was sealed — at Grinnell College, she created, edited and drew strips for a student comics magazine called The Sequence. As an MLS Student at the University of Illinois, she spent way too much time filling up her backpack (and her roommate’s backpack) with the treasures of the Undergrad Library’s comics collection — never less than 40 books at a time. Just in the past few years, she’s worked at libraries and archives in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Indiana, and Austin, Texas and consumed their graphic novels collections with great gusto. She has been drawing her stick-figure avatar, Flippy-Do, since she was about 10 years old.

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