Writer: Helen Mullane
Art: Dom Reardon & Matthew Dow Smith
Color: Lee Loughridge
Lettering: Rob Jones
Price: $17.99 from Humanoids.com or Amazon
Available: March 10
Coming next week from Humanoids, longstanding masters in publishing horror comics (and newly fronted by editor-in-chief Mark Waid) is the graphic novel literary debut of Helen Mullane, Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen. With art by Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith and color supplied by Lee Loughridge, Nicnevin is part murder mystery, part druidic horror, set in the northern British Isles—where folks take their lore seriously.
Drawing from Gaelic myth (or perhaps history), someone in Yeavering Bell, Northumberland is attempting to summon the Cailleach, the Winter Queen, and open the door to the world of the fae. To do it, they must offer a crone, a maid and a mother…and no, I’m not talking about playing cards.
Enter rebellious teen Nicnevin “Nissy” Oswald, her mother Grwyn and younger brother Gowan. Exiled to the far north country by her parents to spend the summer in her grandmother’s cottage (known to locals to have been owned by a witch) in contemplation of the error of her ways, young Nissy soon finds herself immersed in a culture she never knew existed, but of which she is a major part. Nicnevin, you should know, is no standard Brit monicker.
Bored beyond tears, Nissy meets older, attractive and mysterious wanderer Reggie, a former (and apparently highly successful) banker on sabbatical to study ancient British lore and custom. He teaches Nissy of the Votadini, or in their own language, the Guotodin, one of dozens of ancient tribes who’d ruled the British Isles in the times before the Roman Empire…and who were ultimately crushed, their memory lost to that very foe.
Hundreds of miles from her friends, enraged at what she perceives to be a controlling and shriveled mother, Nissy becomes entranced by the worldly Reggie, the way 15-y/o girls will do and…things happen.
Oh, lots. But you have to read the book to find out what.
Non-spoiler: You’ll be glad you did.
Nicnevin is the kind of dark and spooky British tale that appeals to the mid-teen to adult crowd and seems like a nice, fun confection—right up until it rips out your guts and leaves you with nightmares for weeks on end. Anyone who’s read Neil Gaiman’s novels can appreciate the style, and as a freshman effort from Helen Mullane, it’s an impressive work. I found the tale engaging, the lore fascinating, the characters engaging. Her presentation of mid-teen female angst is spot on, as is the dysfunction apparent (but in true British style, only indirectly hinted at) in the Oswald family.
Reardon and Dow Smith’s art—and Loughridge’s colors—accompany the story well: ranging from beautiful pastoral spreads of the northern British countryside, to haunting fae beasties with plenty of powerful human expression at all points in between. Their style treads the fine line between playful and pretty comic and the gothic horror hidden just about the periphery. Think the first time you pondered the actual meaning of “Ring Around the Rosie,” and you’ll completely understand what they’ve accomplished.
While there is little by way of major adaptation of sound effects and dialogue into the art, Rob Jones does a nice job incorporating emoji and text-speak as Nissy interacts with her friends back home. And to be sure, the lettering is clear and flowing. Well, except the parts written in Gaelic which I’ll just have to take his word for but, you know, at least looked cool and all…
All in all, Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen is a more than satisfying late-winter/(hopefully?) early springtime horror read, one of many by the fine, friendly folks at Humanoids. If you’re interested, pop on over to Humanoids.com and check out not just Nicnevin, but any one of their many other strong offerings. And tell ‘em Andy sent you.
(Likely won’t make a bit of difference to them, but it’ll sure make me feel good!)
by Andy Patch
Contributing Editor, thePullbox.com