When she was a little girl, Alice visited Wonderland and had many wonderful adventures. She also made many friends. Unfortunately, as she grew older, Alice found it harder and harder to return to Wonderland. She also found more and more need to escape from the harsh reality of Victorian England, a distant father, and a family that only cares about her in regard to how she improves their social standing.
Alice’s need for something stronger than mushrooms to open the doorway to Wonderland leads to a life of crime and a growing addiction to strong drugs. This, in turn, leads Alice to commit herself to an insane asylum, not knowing her father was already considering such steps to cover up his own dark secrets. Unfortunately, the asylum holds new yet familiar dangers, leaving it uncertain that Alice will get the help she needs, or the permanent path to Wonderland she dreams of.
Alice Ever After is not the first graphic novel to offer a dark, twisted take on a classic Childrens’ story. It is not even the first graphic novel to offer a dark and twisted take on Alice in Wonderland. What it lacks in originality, however, it somewhat makes up in execution.
Best known for his work as an artist, Dan Panosian has been writing more in recent years. He provided some of the covers for Alice Ever After, and drew the intricate sequences set in Wonderland. For the most part, however, his duty here is to tell the tale and write the script.
There is a good deal of wit to the story, but Panosian does little to break the mold. One twist of note is that there are characters in the real world who correspond to Alice’s fantasy life in Wonderland, like her ever-smiling drug dealer becoming the Cheshire Cat. Curiously, there are also characters who are clear analogs of classic Wonderland characters, who are totally absent from Alice’s dreams. The corrupt head of the Asylum, for instance, is clearly meant to be the Queen of Hearts.
Unfortunately, little is done with this idea beyond suggesting that Alice’s adventures are the result of emotional neglect as a child and drug abuse as an adult. Panosian nails the execution, but the story is still sadly predictable, with no possibility that Alice really is traveling between worlds. Given that, I fear Wonderland enthusiasts are not likely to enjoy this story. The overall tone is more depressing than horrific. This is sadly true even in the later chapters, as the perils of the asylum are revealed, along with the dark secret that may have prompted Alice’s creation of Wonderland in the first place.
The artwork, at least, is well done. Giorgio Spalletta perfectly captures the mundane terrors of a Victorian asylum. And while I may quibble with Panosian’s story, I have no complaints about his art. Alas, that is not enough to save Alice Ever After. It is not a badly told tale, but it does nothing new with the Wonderland world and I question its ability to satisfy its target audience.
Boom! Studios has not given Alice Ever After an official age rating. I would suggest it is best read by Older Teens and Adults. While there’s little in terms of content to make it inappropriate for younger teens, I think the nuance of the horror elements are best appreciated by older audiences and readers who are wise beyond their years. Under no circumstances should this be read to children as a bedtime story!
Alice Ever After Vol. By Dan Panosian Art by Giorgio Spalletta BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684158850
Related media: Classic to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Addiction, Ambiguous Mental Illness
Gotta’ catch them all—“them” being a host of ultra-powerful demons set loose on earth and now largely under the control of an assortment of criminals, altruists, and opportunists. What’s the worst that could happen?
Boom! Studios brings us the opening volley in a new series from Simon Spurrier and Charlie Adlard. In voice over and flashback, the story opens with an introduction to Ellie and her uncle Alfie. Young and naïve, Ellie convinces her uncle to show her a summoning—an act he reluctantly agrees to. The moment… doesn’t go great, but no one dies and it begins Ellie’s introduction to an occult world of magic, angels, demons, and hierarchies far beyond human understanding jotted down in conflicting grimoires and notes scribbled by long-dead madmen.
Twelve years later, Ellie is not the naïve youngster she once was. Other things have changed, too. Alfie is dead, and the circumstances may not be so simple as they first appeared. More immediately, demons, once only summoned by complex rituals, are suddenly appearing at the beck and call of low-level gangsters with only the most basic understanding of magic. Something has changed. And so Ellie sets off with those few people she somewhat trusts, her trusty claw hammer, and all the magical knowledge at her disposal to figure out what happened to Alfie, stop the demonic rampages across the city, and send every one of these beings back to the abyss—even if she has to exorcise each one of them herself.
If only it were that simple.
In Spurrier’s hands, Damn Them All quickly embraces a richly textured mix of noir, dark urban fantasy, and horror. The characters are sharp, the landscape is gritty, and the action draws the reader deeper into this world where there is always some secret or paranormal mystery waiting to be revealed. Not every comic that takes on this scope of storytelling and worldbuilding manages to pull it off, but Spurrier clearly has a handle on the script and the medium to balance all the elements at play here. It’s sometimes a little tricky to keep track of all the players and developments, but the writing quickly brings it all to life and stays strong from start to finish, with snappy dialogue, careful management of time and character jumps, and a bold story that’s only getting started. As great as the demon-hunting adventure is, Spurrier takes the time to go deeper, giving us insight into the complexities of this world and characters, even as incomprehensible beings throw down in the street outside.
Hand-in-hand with Spurrier’s writing, Adlard’s illustrations do a fantastic job creating this world and these characters on the page. With realism that leaves room for stylization, the visuals feel rough and grounded except when reality is interrupted by supernatural forces. As the story continues, these two planes of existence become readily intertwined, as colorful magic courses along gritty back alleys and blood-stained crime scenes. The characters are distinct and diverse, with each page and panel engaging to look at, as investigation moves to action and back again—interspersed with ongoing narration from Ellie and other key characters.
Boom! does not list a specific age rating for this title, but Damn Them All is clearly written for adult audiences. There’s consistent strong language that those familiar with more British styles of cursing may not be surprised by—as well as graphic violence and disfigurement, drug use, and adult situations. The comic has a horror edge to it, but there’s a dark humor running through much of the story that lightens the impact somewhat. The marketing draws an unsurprising comparison to the character of John Constantine, and readers familiar with that brand of gritty but snappy dark fantasy should have an idea of what to expect here. In final summary, Damn them All is not for every collection—but if your readers like mature paranormal noir, Spurrier, Adlard, and the rest of this creative team have created an excellent first volume of a story that should not disappoint readers looking for a complex antihero who’s willing to throw a demon prince through a window just because she’s having a bad day.
Damn Them All By Simon Spurrier Art by Charlie Adlard BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684159116
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: British Character Representation: British
Zoe Thorogood received multiple award nominations for It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth, including 2023 Eisner Awards in the Best Graphic Memoir and Best Writer/Artist categories, Forbes’ “The Best Graphic Novels of 2022” list, and she won the 2023 Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award at the Eisner’s. Her art is evocative, engrossing and layered, grabbing readers immediately.
Zoe herself, however, is an entirely different story. She is certainly layered and complex, but she’s also self-conscious, shy, self-described as pathetic and suicidal. It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth is her attempt to record a six month span of her life and try to make sense of how and why she is mental and emotionally in the place she finds herself. A large portion of the story takes place during the Covid-19 lockdown period of 2021 and the sense of isolation many of us experience then is personified by Zoe, who was lonely long before then.
There is a lot of fourth wall breaking as Zoe directly addresses the reader in this book. Very early on she admits that she’s recently had suicidal thoughts, but she’s had them since she was 14 so it is nothing new for her. She is also quick to admit that this book may be an exercise in narcissism or it might help someone else, but it certainly is a selfish act. She’s hoping to bring us along on her journey to America for her first big comic convention she’s been invited to and her hope is the trip itself might be a journey of self-discovery. During the course of the story we’ll meet 14 year old Zoe back in 2013 and see what it was like for her to try and survive in school, watch Zoe meet her best friend in college and have her heart broken in America.
We see Zoe struggle with personal interactions in public with strangers, fans of her work, her parents and at time her friends. She illustrates her depression as a monster that follows her, a giant looming specter waiting just behind her. She illustrates multiple versions of herself and her personality in varying styles so that we can better see how she transitions in and out of comfort and confidence to stress and fear. I’ll point out here that the art in this book is phenomenal and truly aids every facet of the storytelling. There are times it is told in just black and white, other times with splashes of color and some pages are collage with photocopy and photographic elements. I was completely captivated throughout the book.
It is bold for a 22 year old to write a memoir as there is usually not much life experience to draw from, but this book didn’t suffer from a lack of self-awareness there. Zoe explores themes of isolation, self-worth and perception while pointing out to herself how wildly indulgent and vain it is. While it may not have provided a neat, tidy ending where all ends ‘happily-ever-after’, we did see a lot of personal growth from Zoe even as she simply engages with the idea that her younger self would see her current art as successful and fulfilling. She ends the story in a better place than we found her at the beginning saying, “Loneliness makes it hard to see the bigger picture. It makes you self-obsessed; not out of narcissism but because your own self is all you have. Your flaws, quirks, regrets, and mistakes begin to engulf you. Your own self begins to overshadow that bigger picture, but there is always a bigger picture.”
Image Comics rates this book as Mature and I would agree for the sake of placement inside a library. Suicide is already a tough subject to tackle with younger readers, but Zoe depicts (and comments on) her casual drug use and there is profane language sprinkled throughout. I wouldn’t tell older teens not to pick this up, it’s clear why it was nominated for so many awards, but for them especially I would point out Zoe’s disclaimer inside the cover about talk of suicide and her confrontations with it. I hope for her sake it was as cathartic to write as it is to read. Her frankness and honesty was compelling and I found myself rooting for her.
It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth By Zoe Thorogood Image, 2022 ISBN: 9781534323865
Publisher Age Rating: Mature
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Anxiety, Depression
Life on the Isle of Man is peaceful and quiet, and it is driving Kay Farragher mad! An aspiring songwriter and singer, Kay dreams of a world beyond her rural village and caring for her ailing grandmother. She dreams of a life on stage and audiences outside of the pub where she works.
The problem with dreams, however, is that sometimes they become nightmares.
A chance encounter with a young girl named Mona on Halloween Night gives Kay more than she bargained for. Mona claims to have come from a world of eternal twilight, straight from the faerie stories Kay’s grandmother believes in. Soon Kay finds herself neck-deep in that world, where a horseshoe is a weapon, a hero of legend seeks the bride he was promised, and the scoundrels of two worlds seek to scheme their way out of their own dark bargains.
I had high expectations heading into Cold Iron. Apart from a fondness for Celtic mythology and horror tales involving faeries, I am a big fan of Andy Diggle’s writing and have been since his highly underrated run on Hellblazer. I was not disappointed.
Two things distinguish Cold Iron from similar stories. One is the setting, which draws upon the unique mythology of the Isle of Man, rather than the more familiar Irish Leprechauns or the Selkies of Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The other is the lead character Kay, who is developed far beyond being the typical strong female protagonist that takes center stage in many modern horror stories.
Kay is a conflicted character, being both a dreamer and a realist. She delights in entertaining children with spooky tales and songs at Halloween, but she doesn’t believe in the myths her grandmother accepts as gospel. She longs to see the world, but wants to maintain the family farm, even as she rebels against the idea of a comfortable life working in a fish and chips shop and marrying her on-again/off-again boyfriend. These details make Kay seem more sympathetic and more real, grounding the fantastic elements of the story.
The artwork by Nick Brokenshire, with colors by Triona Farrell and letters by Simon Bowland, manages a similar balancing act. Brokenshire proves equally adept at capturing the static beauty of the Isle of Man and in depicting the weird horror of the faerie realm. Farrell uses different contrasting palettes for both worlds, with the vibrancy of the twilight realm offering a firm divide against the stark reality of Kay’s life. Bowland also uses distinctive fonts for the Fair Folk, to subtly hint at their alien nature.
Dark Horse Comics rated this volume as appropriate for ages 12 and up. I think that might be a fair assessment of the story, which has nothing more objectionable than a bit of violence and a few curse words. The artist notes in the back of the book, however, feature some sketches of naked fairies that are a bit extreme for a T-rating. I would shelve this volume in the older teen or adult section just to be safe and since I think the story is more likely to appeal to older audiences, who can appreciate the full horror Mona finds in the future.
Cold Iron By Andy Diggle Art by Nick Brokenshire, Triona Farrell, Simon Bowland, Tom Muller Dark Horse, 2023 ISBN: 9781506730875
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: British, Irish, Scottish, Character Representation: British,
In the regency era, a marriage of convenience between two people trapped by circumstance may lead either to happiness or the risk of total ruin.
First Second presents Ruined by Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Niki Smith, a graphic Regency romance marketed for fans of Bridgerton. The story opens with the marriage of Catherine Benson and Andrew Davener. Catherine comes from a respectable family and her situation offers a large dowry to whichever man marries her. However, she is overshadowed by swirling rumors that claim she lost her virtue under scandalous circumstances. Andrew’s family has seen a string of deaths, forcing him into the unexpected role as head of a household on the brink of financial ruin. Knowing fully that each is the other’s last chance of redeeming their situations, their wedding is agreeably one of need, not passion.
Such an arrangement naturally comes with difficulty, even before the ghosts of Catherine’s and Andrew’s pasts begin to reappear. But as the couple begins to work together to rebuild the Davener estates and put their affairs in order, something new begins to grow between them. The sparks of love are undeniable, but also terrifying to two people who have found themselves adrift in turmoil they never expected to face. And if they dare to trust one another, it opens their comfortable arrangement up to the possibility of even more heartbreak.
For Ruined, the comparison to Netflix’s Bridgerton series is inevitable. Thankfully, the resemblance goes deeper than the simple trappings of the genre. The world of Ruined embraces a welcome level of diversity. Though the two leads appear to be white, characters of various ethnicities inhabit multiple levels of society throughout the story. Additionally, sub-plots involve side characters of other sexualities and neurodivergence, and all of these characters are integrated smoothly into Vaughn’s version of Regency England. As for the central story, marriage of convenience is a familiar trope, and Vaughn plays it out mostly as expected, though not without some touching moments scattered across Catherine and Andrew’s growing relationship. The writing could sometimes be honed a bit more to the razor sharpness that shines in regency romance stories, but fans of the genre will find plenty to enjoy here nonetheless.
Searle’s art presents a distinct illustrative style, drawing together elements of realism with a decidedly more animated appearance that will work well for some readers, while it will leave others wanting. There are times when the simplicity pays off. In other moments, the story seems to want a rich complexity that the art simply does not capture. However, from lush balls and gardens to moments of intimacy and awkwardness, Searle’s work undeniably portrays the layers and vulnerability of Catherine and Andrew as they are forced to face themselves before they can take a chance on true happiness.
First Second does not list an age rating for this title, but with multiple scenes of nudity and sexual content, Ruined would live most comfortably in the adult areas of any collection. In the end, the book does not rise to the same heights as the Bridgerton show and some similar titles, but it has an undeniable charm which should please readers looking for additional Regency-era romance stories—especially in graphic novel form where this genre of romance is not as common. It may not draw in new readers to the genre, but for any readership that is already onboard with regency romance and related tropes, Ruined is worth considering.
Ruined By Sarah Vaughn Art by Sarah Winifred Searle, Niki Smith Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250769350
Publisher Age Rating: Series ISBNs and Order Related media:
Rivers of London is a supernatural horror series that I have been aware of for some time, but never had the chance to read. I recognized the name of the author, Ben Aaronovitch, from Doctor Who and recalled him as the writer of one of the best episodes of all time, “Remembrance of the Daleks.” I finally took the plunge with the graphic novel Deadly Ever After. Unfortunately, Deadly Ever After proved as big a disappointment to me as Dynamite Comics’ adaptations of the Dresden Files.
The Rivers of London series (aka the Peter Grant or PC Grant series) is set in an alternate London where magic is real and a special department called the Folly protect ordinary people from the supernatural. Most of the Rivers of London stories center around newbie wizard Peter Grant as he investigates various crimes and copes with the many gods and monsters that secretly populate London. Deadly Ever After is an entirely different story.
Deadly Ever After centers around two young river goddesses, Chelsea and Olympia, who are easily bored and would rather spend their days smoking weed and hanging out than doing whatever it is respectable goddesses are meant to spend their days doing. Their showing off to a random mortal winds up unleashing a vengeful spirit who was kidnapped by fairies centuries earlier and has returned to an unfamiliar London even more cynical than the one they left behind. This leads to the twins trying desperately to cover up their crime before their mother or the Folly get involved, as the spirit starts trying to make fairy tales come true in order to prove the power of stories and that fairies are real.
The idea of supernatural creatures reenacting fairy tales is one of the most played out tropes in modern fantasy and Deadly Ever After does nothing to change the formula. Any fan of the genre will immediately see where the story is going the minute a little girl in a red hoodie runs out of the woods screaming about something attacking her grandmother. This might be tolerable were the narration of the book not offering a metatextual commentary on the cliches, literally describing Chelsea and Olympia as “feeling like they were in their own detective comic about glamorous teen Londoners.”
The artwork is similarly lackluster. Jose Maria Beroy’s artwork is competent and they have a firm grasp of anatomy. Unfortunately, the artwork doesn’t fit the dark theme of the story, being too posed and static. The bright colors and light inks don’t help matters.
The damnable thing is that Deadly Ever After might cut the mustard as a young adult comic aimed at an audience that is less familiar with this sort of story than the average urban fantasy fan. Unfortunately, the blood and violence are intense enough and the language adult enough to make this book unsuitable for any audience younger than an OT/16+. I fear anyone old enough to handle the content is likely to find the two protagonists insufferably selfish and annoying. I may give Rivers ofLondon another shot, but this volume gave me a very poor impression of the series.
Rivers of London, vol. 10: Deadly Ever After By Celeste Bronfamn, Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Art by Jose Beroy Titan, 2023 ISBN: 9781787738591
Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Character Representation: Black
Memories and truth often lay buried in our distant past, waiting to be aroused and awakened. For award-winning children’s author and illustrator Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend;Drawn Together) that time has come, and he conjures forth his magical creativity to reimagine a 13-year-old version of himself in the graphic memoir A First Time for Everything. What unfolds is an endearing character-building story that chronicles the adventures of a middle schooler on an overseas trip one summer before entering the throes of high school.
The story starts off in Camarillo, a small town located on the outskirts of Los Angeles where Santat grew up. He was a shy kid, preferring to be invisible, and when asked to recite an impromptu poem during an assembly in the school gym one day, gets jeered at by his classmates. During the summer of 1989, through the encouragement of his parents, he embarks on a three-week class trip to study abroad in Europe. Many “firsts” abound for him: Trying out a Fanta orange soda drink, dancing at a night club, having a beer, asking a girl out, and experiencing his first (albeit botched) kiss. A chance encounter later leads him to fall into love with a blonde named Amy Glucksbringer from Illinois. Together, they sneak in to watch a Wimbledon tennis tournament. At one point he even gets lost in the streets of Salzburg during the middle of the night and is chased by a gang of punks.
Santat narrates his travels and escapades with honesty, wonder, and charming humor, transporting his younger self across France, Germany, and England. Panels packed with lively action peppered with humorous moments—some wordless and filled with sound effects—drive the narrative scenes between characters. Flashbacks shaded in light somber blues capture moments in time that impact his present circumstances. Sightseeing excursions unfold through quarter to full-page panels featuring sketches of world landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, Palace of Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, showcasing his burgeoning talent as an artist. The back matter features a collage of photographs and mementos marking key points in his travels along with insightful tidbits on the process of constructing a memoir from memory.
A First Time for Everything packs much love and heart into the zany and often awkward exploits of an adolescent encountering milestones of self-discovery. A coming-of-age story replete with themes on risk-taking, identity seeking, and reconciliation, this graphic memoir will make an enchantingly delightful addition to middle grade collections, demonstrating that it’s never too late to live life to the fullest.
A First Time for Everything By Dan Santat Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250851048
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Thai-American Character Representation: Thai-American
It is said that a little knowledge is a most dangerous thing, and one defiant magician from the pages of Alan Moore’s classic Swamp Thing inevitably maneuvers past perils standing in his path to sneer in the face of danger. A wise-cracking, double-dealing supernatural detective who escaped the jaws of hell, he is known as none other than the enigmatic and self-proclaimed John Constantine. In DC Comics’s trend of reimagining classic iconic characters, Kami Garcia (Teen Titans: Raven, Beautiful Creatures) and Isaac Goodhart (Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story) conjure forth a younger version of the notorious laughing magician venturing into adulthood in Constantine: Distorted Illusions.
The story starts off in London with an 18-year-old Constantine who, at the beckoning of his stepfather, secretly exploits an opportunity to hone his magic powers from the Lady Maguerite Delphine—a high-ranking sorceress of an elite magician’s society—as an excuse to take a trip to the U.S. Instead of serving as a magician’s apprentice, he would prefer to hook up with his best friend Monica and jam with a punk band dubbed the Mucous Membrane. While hanging out in Washington D.C., he pays a visit to Lady Delphine only to be booted out of her mansion for his reckless curiosity, but not before swiping a book of spells from her arcane collection, thus triggering a series of dangerous misadventures. Constantine teams up with a ragtag group of friends and dabbles with trick illusions to amplify the visual effects for their punk band gig. One spell leads to another until a vengeance spell is unwittingly cast, summoning forth an unspeakable evil that threatens to consume the very soul of one his friends.
This inventive take on the hellblazing magus presents a daring, self-assured Constantine whose heedless actions catapult him into a heap of trouble with deadly consequences, and drags his friends into messy predicaments. Along the way, he falls for a brunette named Luna at a night club, oblivious that she harbors a secret of her own. The plot unravels rapidly across different locales with panels shaded in dark purple and midnight blue, casting a mystical aura. As the action escalates, panel borders twist and bend, creating a supernatural, psychedelic ambience, throwing the characters into pandemonium. Garcia highlights a youthful rendition of Constantine whose impetuous boldness casts him into a whirlpool of misfortunes.
Packed with thrills, intrigue, romance, and deadly magic of supernatural proportions, this chapter in the Constantine saga navigates the delicate terrain of relationships, trust, dangers and consequences of taking risks, and assuming responsibility for one’s actions. Longtime fans will also witness a more down-to-earth and inexperienced Constantine whose moral compass steers him on a path towards redemption. Constantine: Distorted Illusion will add a lively dose of supernatural horror and edginess to young adult graphic novel collections.
Constantine: Distorted Illusions By Kami Garcia Art by Isaac Goodhart DC, 2022 ISBN: 9781779507730
Publisher Age Rating: 13-17 NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Rose is an amateur baker working as a waitress in a small town restaurant. When she makes a special dessert for a food critic, she is invited to participate in a baking competition with her childhood friend Fred. This isn’t an ordinary competition though as the contestants are faced with obstacle courses, sabotage, and surprise ingredients like brussel sprouts.
Rose is motivated to win the grand prize in order to attend college at a prestigious cooking school. She is also dealing with her parents’ eminent divorce, her developing feelings for Fred, and a rival who is willing to do anything to prove herself to be the best. It’s no wonder she finds herself distracted and just managing to stay off the bottom in the competition.
This story has all the feelings of a Hallmark romcom. The author/illustrator does a fantastic job of balancing the plot with humor, seriousness, and the competition. The judge makes a lot of corny baking puns, which is a fun recurring joke throughout the story. The illustrations are crisp and with just enough details to convey the emotions and visual cues that readers should be able to easily pick up.
Although there is not a lot of technique explanations in the text, this book does include detailed recipes sprinkled throughout the story. I did not have the chance to try making any of them, but the ingredients look to be standard baking fare and the directions easy enough to follow. Younger readers will need help from an experienced adult to help them understand some of the unexplained terms, but preteens and teens should be capable enough to follow along.
Batter Royale is recommended for any collection aimed at preteens or younger teens.
Batter Royale By Leisl Adams Amulet Books, 2022 ISBN: 9781419750755
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Canadian, Character Representation: Assumed Black, Canadian,
Originally published in 1993 in Angels & Visitations, this short story was apparently written in one weekend and is one of Neil Gaiman’s most reprinted stories.[i] The story is charming with a medieval knight on a quest, a wise, delightful elderly woman, and, of course, The Holy Grail found in a second-hand store. Mrs. Whitaker spends a good deal of time checking for bargains at the store and this time she finds the perfect ornament for her fireplace mantel. She barely puts it into place when Galaad arrives hoping to purchase the Grail from her to complete his quest. But, you know, it is the perfect knickknack for that spot! He continues to visit her with additional items to trade for the Grail but to no avail. He does get served tea and cake however and to visit with the enchanting woman. Eventually she makes a worthy trade for two of the exotic items he offers her: the Philosopher’s Stone and Egg of the Phoenix.
The prose story is whimsical and romantic, filled with grace, loyalty, honour, and friendship. The collaboration with Colleen Doran’s illustrations moves it beyond the charm of the prose and into the realm of magic and alchemy. Doran, a long-time collaborator and friend of Gaiman’s, wears this story with pride and her own tenure. She has created a masterpiece, interweaving the ancient tales of the Arthurian knights with a more contemporary story of a widow surrounded by memories and a quiet lifestyle in a small British village while remaining faithful to Gaiman’s writing style and text. I particularly appreciated the sharing of stories between Galaad and Mrs. Whitaker, his about his mother Elaine and other members of the Arthurian circle, illustrated in three full pages each with a series of vignettes, while Mrs. Whitaker’s stories of her husband are accompanied by images and artifacts from World War II. Doran was responsible for adapting the short story, the illustrations, and the Illuminated Manuscript Lettering. Todd Klein did the rest of the lettering which also adds to the charm and whimsy of the tale being told.
Working in watercolours, the delicate illustrations have a soft and dreamy look, harking back to the ancient Medieval illuminated manuscripts that Doran employed as inspiration. The brilliant blues and reds that make a frequent appearance on the pages add to the enigmatic and tranquil spirit of the story. In the Notes section at the end of the book she clarifies that she used 18K gold for some of the illumination, while attempting to evoke the watercolors of one of her favorite artists—Peter Rabbit creator, Beatrix Potter. The two styles compliment each other and complete the fantastical experience for the reader. No one is surprised that a medieval knight wearing armor and riding a horse visits the neighbourhood or that he finds a grail of another sort at the same second-hand store. The varied panel layout moves the story at a measured pace—this is not an action tale, this is one where the reader takes time to savour the illustrations, the prose and, perhaps, too, the idea of another cup of tea. Expressive faces and body language add an additional dimension to the story being related, especially with the incidental but important story of Marie.
I highly recommend this exquisite graphic novel for the story and the illustrations, but even more so for the collaboration between the text and art.
For those interested, there is currently an exhibition of this work at the Cartoon Art Museum: The Cartoon Art Museum presents Chivalry: The Art of Colleen Doran, an exhibition of original artwork from the Dark Horse graphic novel Chivalry illustrated by Doran and written by Neil Gaiman. This exhibition features Doran’s beautiful cover painting and twenty original pages personally selected by the artist and is on display from April 23 through September 18, 2022.
[i] Wagner, Hank, Christopher Golden & Stephen R. Bissett. Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 2008, 381.
Chivalry By Neil Gaiman Art by Colleen Doran Dark Horse, 2022 ISBN: 9781506719115
Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Character Representation: English