Friday, August 8, 2008

REVIEW :: Three Shadows

Three Shadows GN
by Cyril Pedrosa

Three Shadows is one of a recent bumper crop of excellent or semi-excellent books from relatively new publisher First Second. Kind of like a slicker, probably better-funded version of NBM, insofar as they're publishing a fair amount of European graphic novels, First Second has quickly carved out a niche as a highly respectable publisher with a lot of solid critical success so far, including books by Gipi, the recent Eisner-winning Laika by Nick Abadzis, and numerous books by Joann Sfar and other members of the French collective L'Association.

The loose plot of the book is that a family's idyllic existence is interrupted by the appearance of the titular three shadows, which pose some sort of unspoken menace to the young son of the family. While I don't know much about Cyril Pedrosa, I can only assume that he is an animator of some great talent--his art is loose and flowing in the best tradition of European animators. His figures are all imbued with an incredible sense of movement, not only because of how they're posed within the page, but because of the way they're drawn: Pedrosa's line is so fluid that I found myself staring again and again at individual panels. If nothing else, you get a huge sense of organic humanity in the drawings; it's clear that human hands made this art, chose these lines, posed these figures.

One of the more effective visual tricks of the book is the way that the art seems to blur and simplify itself at moments of stress or danger in the story. In a sequence where the father is trying to escape through the woods with his son, the page reverts to a simple 6-panel grid, with the figures little more than blurry thumbnails. They almost seem to vibrate with danger, especially contrasting against the very calm, beautifully drawn family scenes just pages prior.

All in all, this was a good quick read. However, while I normally prefer comics to be shorter, more condensed, more edited, this is one of the rare books that I wish were longer, more fleshed out. Without ruining the conclusion of the story, about halfway through the book the locale of the story changes pretty suddenly to a ship crossing some sort of inland sea or vast river or something. There's a mystical climax, and then an even stranger change of scene/characters, almost to an entirely different story. These aren't necessarily bad things, but they feel so fast, given the theme and subject matter of the book, that it feels more frenzied than the pace of the book calls for.

Maybe this could have been two (or even three?) books? Hard to say--the anticlimax is so lengthy it could almost have been its own book by itself. Still, regardless of these smallish complaints, this book is so beautifully drawn that it could be about a bunch of sentient stuffed animals and it still would have been a very pleasant reading experience. The only other complaint I might make is (as with pretty much all the First Second books, especially the translated ones) is that the computer lettering is super-boring, especially compared with the art. This is offset somewhat by the very attractive book design, including untrimmed page edges that give the book a kind of old-world appeal that's rare for a comic.

As it is, it's a slightly flawed book that you will most likely enjoy reading, possibly multiple times over the years. Extra good (or bad) for parents who are constantly worrying about their children and all the many menaces the world has waiting for them.


Rich Barrett said...

Nice review. I've been curious about this book because the artwork looks really nice. Too many things out there to read though.

Dustin Harbin said...

The artwork really is amazing. BUT I can't get behind it as 100% satisfying. However, I noticed you special ordered Bottomless Bellybutton, which is AWESOME! So different from anything else--I wrote a bunch of notes for a review, but time got away from me and now I'd have to reread it.

Bottomless Bellybutton would actually be a PRIMO selection for the Discussion Group, if we could get enough people to pick it up. Lots of stuff to talk about in there.

Andy Mansell said...

dustin-- nice review--I was planning on skipping the book-- I have problems reading "kids in danger" books-- nuff said, but your review puts it in some excellent perspective.

Rich-- sorry you werent there last night for Ice Haven it was twisted.

BTW-- what is the next book on YMB discussion. I can't wait. We should definitely plug your FORUM at the Watmen reading group.

Rich Barrett said...

Oh no! I didn't even realize I missed the Ice Haven discussion group! For some reason I thought it was next week. And that book was actually my choice too. Damn.