Raptor introduces the reader to two main characters who exist in parallel, but entwined universes; the mercenary Sokol, who lives and hunts mysterious beasts in a stark feudal landscape and Arthur, the author of supernatural tales who is a disturbed, grieving widower living in nineteenth century Wales. Arthur’s grief and interest in the supernatural leads him to an active interest in gothic spiritualism.
The character Sokol is a duality; both a human and a hawk, trapped between life and death, civilized life and animal instinct, and reality and fantasy. The resulting tale is a combination of monster-hunting adventures and historical fiction exploring the nature of grief, books, readers, and the intersection of boundaries. Sokol wears a hard mask throughout the novel, readers never see any facial engagement with him, especially as he finds an ancient coin which he quickly gives away and plays a large part in the overall action of the graphic novel. Arthur, on the other hand, is portrayed as a depressed young man, full of pain and despair with the loss of his young wife. Arthur’s brother attempts to help him by introducing him to a secret society filled with tarot cards and superstitions.
The two main personalities meet and interact through a manuscript written by Arthur about his apparently invented character, Sokol. Written changes to the manuscript are manifested by both characters as they begin to communicate across the borders between their two realities. This interaction helps Arthur handle the devastation felt by the death of his wife and allows Sokol to become more engaged with his world as well.
McKean created his sophisticated and haunting illustrations in ink and pencil, augmented with several painted pages, before scanning them to be shaped digitally. Sokol and his world are illustrated with thick lines, a liberal use of black ink and elaborate details in the feathers of the birds and cloth worn by the humans. The monsters are enormous, the trees (my favorite) are twisted, gnarled, and grotesque, and the buildings of the town are, in turn, earthy and medieval. Arthur’s story is created with a softer line, offering an abstract dreaminess to the story line and the characters with several instances of splashes of color. Arthur’s dreams, on the other hand, are completely loaded with color and conceptual images that are as breathtaking as they are beautiful. The lettering throughout is small and fairly translucent ensuring that the reader slow down to appreciate the text and the illustrations that surround it. This is a book that calls to be read and re-read again and again. The two intersecting story lines are opaque enough that each reading gives an additional glimpse into the two worlds and the characters but leaves additional questions and wonderment.
Recommended for collections that house his previous works as well as the Sandman series. The story line is complex but also accessible for older teens who appreciate stories that are slower in pace, beautifully illustrated, and open ended.
Raptor: A Sokol Graphic Novel Vol.
By Dave McKean
Dark Horse, 2021
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: British, Character Representation: Depression