Review: ‘Three Shadows’ by Cyril Pedrosa
This book will break your heart; I warn you now.
First Second, 2008, $15.95
Louis and Lise are farmers somewhere quiet and untouched, doting parents to their small son Joachim. Their life is bucolic, idyllic: “Back then…life was simple and sweet. Everything was simple and sweet…The taste of cherries, the cool shade, the fresh smell of the river… That was how we lived, in a vale among the hills…sheltered from storms…Ignorant of the world, as though on an island…Peaceful and untroubled…Then everything changed.”
Three figures appear ominously one evening, on horseback at the horizon. Somehow, everyone knows that they’re trouble, but they can’t be confronted. They disappear into the mist, into the distance. Joachim’s dog Diego disappears, and the shadows use his barking to lure the boy – and almost get him.
So Lise goes to the nearest big town to consult with Mistress Pike, whose sign reads “Midwife. Exorcist. Sympathetic Ear.” The truth is what they fear most: the shadows have come for Joachim. And they’re not going to stop.
So Louis flees with his son, hoping to outrun the shadows. They cross a river more like an ocean, and a shipwreck is perhaps the least horrible thing that could happen on that trip. Louis keeps trying to run, to fight, to save his son…and do I need to tell you the ending?
I can’t tell you the ending.
[[[Three Shadows]]] is a nearly perfect graphic novel, a story where the art and words are unified in a way that happens all-too rarely. Pedrosa trained as an animator, working on Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules, but his loose, looping, expressive line bears little resemblance to the clean outlines of most “animation-inspired” art. Pedrosa is a great cartoonist, already a master of gesture and expression, unafraid to draw quickly to capture the essence of a scene. (And yet his objects are carefully crafted, with long, straight lines that still look completely organic and true.) There are a few scarce moments of narration, but the story is mostly told through dialogue and by Pedrosa’s amazing art.
There’s a whole world implied in Three Shadows, and much more of it shown than you’d expect. It’s long for a graphic novel – over two hundred and sixty pages – which gives it a depth and a life that shorter books can’t touch. It won the Prix Essentiel award at the most recent Angouleme festival in France, and that accolade is well-chosen: this is an essential story.
Three Shadows is officially published today, April 1st. I strongly suggest that you go and find it as soon as you can. It’s not only the best graphic novel I’ve read since at least Craig Thompson’s Blankets, it’s one of the best novels of any kind I’ve ever seen.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.