Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Anyone is capable of kindness... I believe."
"You hope, rather."
Brrrr... It's going to get chilly!
Little about the relatively mundane cover can prepare you for some of the beauty within. "There are witches inside" it seems to say, "And you know they're all warty. It's the tradition."
Which is a shame. How much braver it would have been to have gone with Shane-Michael Vidaurri for 'The Magic Swan Goose And The Lord Of The Forest" with its inventive layout, light and colour is something I've spent some considerable time studying. Our own Jodie Paterson - an inventive artist in her own right (see our range of Jodie Paterson Greetings Cards And Prints) - couldn't agree more.
It tells of a time long ago when a wild, wooded land was so remote that its king had so far failed to claim it. Its virgin, snow-topped mountain overlooked a village so small that it was self-sustaining and at one with its local habitat. It was in harmony with nature.
"The years fell as quickly and as gracefully as the autumn. And what was once a small town became a city, and a king laid his claim on the forest."
Specifically he laid claim on the forest's tallest tree: so tall that its topmost branches were said to catch stars which imbued them with magical properties. Philistine that he was, the king chopped the tree down to fashion a crown for the day of his son's coronation. But the tree was much loved by Lord Of The Forest, a tall armoured rabbit or hare who took umbrage.
That king already had a daughter much older than his son but, of course - oh, of course! - she was but second in-line to the throne. The princess loved her family but cared not for the court and its mannered pageantry, pomp and dull dealings. She preferred to wander through the forest and was particularly drawn to the sturdy, hollow stump of the tree her father had plundered. It was while loitering, daydreaming there that the princess overheard a curse cast upon the crown and what happened thereafter would change the kingdom forever.
I love a good twist - see Becky Cloonan's THE MIRE - and have chosen my words very carefully.
There is a lovely lilt to how the words tumble and often chime, Vidaurri's hand-drawn lettering as much an intimate part of the art as it is in Dame Darcy's MEATCAKE or Emily Carroll's THROUGH THE WOODS.
Vidaurri uses the space around each boldly inset panel - often no more than a single panel per page - to further the narration while decorating it with a vaulted ceiling, maybe mountains or mice, oak acorns or red-berried leaves.
The panel borders themselves might be composed as a cloak-clothed woman whose image is mirrored like a knave or queen playing card, or soared over by a majestic white swan. It's the sort of playfulness I relish in self-published works but which is then often jettisoned when a "proper" publisher makes claim.
But if you prefer your witches traditional then Jeff Stokely's adaptation of the original teleplay 'Vasilissa The Beautiful' with its grotesque Baba Yaga (see Neil Gaiman's THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and the cover here) will please you enormously. There's even a wicked step-mother with her equally malicious cuckoo kids and two cracking opening sentences:
"Once upon a time, long winters ago, at the very edge of the world, was a village which God had forgotten. A few lonely houses stood there, fenced by a forest so deep and so dark that the sky stopped above it for fear of getting lost."
It's one of three of the four stories here to feature families under threat so prominently. The other is 'The Snow Witch' from which I gleaned the opening quotation. It's a landscape affair which requires you to turn the book 90 degrees but only once when you start to read it. (Too many superhero comics ten years ago required you to do this mid-session then again and again thereby ruining your immersion and - unlike CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY - for no reason other than the artist's self-indulgent ego / whim.)
'The Snow Witch' extracts a promise from a young woodcutter never to speak of her existence or she will find and punish him. Her subsequent connivances put him in the most painful position possible (remember, it is all about family) and what follows is the most frustrating intractability which transmutes love into sorrow and suffering. What will cleave your heart in two is that it's all so profoundly unnecessary.