Complexity and simplicity seem at odds with each other, but David Jesus Vignolli seamlessly weaves together complex themes with simple, expressive art to create a charming and thoughtful story in his debut graphic novel, A Girl in the Himalayas.
The story opens with young Vijaya’s house in flames, and she flees her home alone, wandering into the snow of the Himalayas. When she collapses, Prasad, a supernatural being, sees her and decides to give up his immortality to preserve her life. Prasad takes her to the Sanctuary, a place he and another immortal, Vasu, have created as a shelter from humanity. Prasad and Vasu introduce Vijaya to the Elementals who travel to the Sanctuary to recover from the choking “Illusion” of humanity that threatens to kill them. While Vijaya is quick to befriend a group of Elementals, not all of them are pleased by her presence in the Sanctuary. After all, she is a human, and humans are the source of the Illusion. She must prove to herself and to the Sanctuary that not all humans are ruled by Illusion and that she can honor the values of the Earth and the Elementals.
The novel is in part reminiscent of the mythology of ancient religions. Vignolli incorporates the Indian concepts of maya (Illusion) and yoga to describe energies at war with each other, addressing the heights of humanity found in the innocence and curiosity of a child, versus the depths displayed by the greed and cruelty that some men reach. The story questions what it takes to change the minds of people (or creatures) who are entrenched in one viewpoint. The answer? Love. Hope. Sacrifice. Forgiveness. Curiosity.
Vignolli relies on black, white, and soft orange to color his novel. I found myself examining and appreciating the details of each panel more closely than I often do in a full-color spread. Vignolli depicts the greed, insecurity, and self-centeredness of humanity in a black roiling cloud, in contrast to the softer whites and creams of the Sanctuary. The Elementals are whimsical shapes born of Vignolli’s imagination, representing energies of the Earth that wish to heal the world and live harmoniously. The style of art aligns perfectly with the spirit of the story and its characters.
Lovers of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, KiKi’s Delivery Service) will enjoy this graphic novel and its mix of reality and whimsy. This graphic novel appeals to a spectrum of ages and backgrounds. Young readers are able to identify with Vijaya’s eagerness to explore and befriend the world around her, and older readers able to appreciate the more complex themes of sacrifice, hope, and the heights and depths of humanity. As a wonderful story with simple, expressive art and an underlying homage to mythology and ancient belief systems, this graphic novel is a strong addition to any collection.
A Girl in the Himalayas
by David Jesus Vignolli
Archaia / BOOM! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12