Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, former art directors at Pixar Animation Studios, have created their own animation studio called Tonko House. For their first project, the duo created an animated fantasy short called The Dam Keeper, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015. The story of a dark entity and the young pig in charge of preventing its destruction is retold in this visually dark and expressive graphic novel of the same name.
The Dam Keeper is responsible for keeping the deadly black fog away from Sunrise Valley. Pig and his father maintain and operate the mechanical dam with its large windmill that pushes the darkness away. But when his father leaves his home and enters the fog, he is gone. Now Pig is solely responsible for keeping his home safe. He studies the fog and keeps track of its movements. On one dark day Pig and his friends discover a tidal wave of dark fog rushing towards them, eventually crashing into the dam and taking them into the mysterious woods, outside their town. Lost and confused, the three children start a journey far from their home to search for help and answers about the odd nature of the fog.
Kondo and Tsutsumi have used their animation and storytelling talents to create an amazing graphic novel. The story is emotional, with Pig narrating his thoughts about his father’s disappearance and the loneliness he feels as he continues to do his work. Each page resembles a film storyboard, with action and dramatic scenes that move from panel to panel, but with added tones and effects to enhance the story. These multi-panel scenes display the characters’ expressions and feelings clearly with minimal use of dialogue. Close ups on characters’ faces and specific scenes draws the reader’s attention to the story as well. The creators use a combination of shadows and dark tones to convey scenes of despair and gloom, especially when it relates to the creeping fog and Pig’s past, and include colorful bright scenes when highlighting daily town life. The cast of characters are anthropomorphic animals of various species wearing modern clothing, with the three main characters possessing the same name as their species (Pig, his friend Foxy, and their classmate Hippo). The main character Pig is inquisitive and curious, Foxy is the courageous one of the group, and Hippo may act tough but he is as frightened as the rest of them.
The Dam Keeper is indeed a dark graphic novel, but it is stylistic and dramatic. Tonko House has created an unique story with plenty of mysterious elements to keep the reader curious and entertained. It will make a good addition to any children’s collection and is recommended for children in 4th-6th grades.
The Dam Keeper
by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
First Second, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 7-11