Creators of fantasy comics are a hard-working bunch, taking on the challenge of making their worlds believable in both words and pictures. In his first outing as a graphic novelist, Toronto cartoonist and illustrator Eric Orchard does so admirably with his unique combination of gentle humour and pure heart.
The story opens with young Maddy Kettle on a train with her flying pet toad and two talking kangaroo rats – whom readers quickly learn are her parents, transformed into rodents by the mysterious Thimblewitch and her army of spider goblins. Maddy, not being the kind of girl who counts rat-cursed parents as a blessing, sets off to find the Thimblewitch and restore her parents to human form.
Orchard’s style has an otherworldly, steampunk surrealness in which all characters have beady black eyes more than a little reminiscent of Coraline’s Other Mother. Such an approach may seem to set the stage for creepiness but this never comes to pass. In fact, subtly sweet, funny moments
prevail, like when a stray snake orates from the side of a panel (“It’s ok, folks. I’m not poisonous”) and when Maddy secures her flying toad with a red string to keep
This is an entry-level epic with no threats of mortal peril. The Thimblewitch’s true identity is revealed in an incredibly touching moment, and a group of villains Maddy encounters actually turns out to be on an admirable mission. This graphic novel also clocks in at fewer than 100 pages, with a maximum of six panels per page; young readers not yet ready for the multi-instalment commitment required for series such as Jeff Smith’s Bone or Kabu Kibuishi’s Amulet will enjoy cutting their teeth on this quiet quest.
While the resolutions come a mite too easily, younger and more sensitive readers will revel in this vividly imagined and acrimony-free adventure. With the final pages creating conditions ripe for a sequel, there is hopefully more to come from Maddy (and her toad).