Story: Neil Gaiman
Art: Colleen Doran
Letters: Todd Klein
Publisher: Dark Horse Books (part of the Neil Gaiman Library), October, 2016
Available: Via Amazon, comiXology, DarkHorse.com, or, if you want a REALLY COOL personally signed version directly from artist supreme Colleen Doran herself, at adistantsoil.com/book-store/
Price: Digital copies from comiXology are $8.99; hardcover list price is $14.99 (and worth every penny, especially if you purchase it from the artist!)
So, recently I was lucky enough to stumble my way into artist extraordinaire Colleen Doran’s on-line store, and thusly and immediately snagged a couple of her collaborations with Neil Gaiman: Snow, Glass, Apples (which you might have heard of, as it’s won, like, 12,437 awards) and Troll Bridge. Super gal-darned pleased with both of them, I figured it might be a fitting time for a Bookshelf Review. Going to take a look at Troll Bridge, as being the less-publicized of the two.
First, a bit of a mea culpa before we get too far: I’m an unabashed Neil Gaiman and rapidly growing Colleen Doran fan, and I thoroughly enjoy traditional tales and fables reinterpreted via fresh perspectives. As such, there was pretty much no condition under which this was going to be less than a glowing review. You have been warned.
Troll Bridge tells the tale of Jack (as so many children’s stories do), a curious and adventurous, if somewhat friendless young (and, later in his tale, older) lad, and his relationship with a bridge troll. Jack stumbles upon the troll while out adventuring as a summer-freed seven-year-old. The troll, as trolls do, snarls to Jack after the boy had trip-trapped over his bridge that he’s going to eat the child’s life. Given it was daylight at the time and he was thus impervious to real harm from any fell beastie, Jack negotiates his freedom from the troll rather than succumbing to its might, promising to return at a later age and thereby offer a more succulent and seasoned life to sup upon.
Thus begins a coming- and then passing-of-age story of a boy and his monster. And in true Gaiman fashion, it features a variety of twists and turns, and ebon-dark corners. Just as Snow, Glass, Apples is far afield of Disney’s happily sanitized Snow White (or even the Grimm brothers’ original, for that matter), Troll Bridge is not your kindergartner’s Three Billy Goats Gruff. The tale, told in retrospect by the now-adult Jack, is beautiful prose: eloquent, evocative and yet somehow minimal at once. And, true to Gaiman form, fondly nostalgic of a youth lived in the wilds of fair(ish) Britain in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.
But anyone choosing to read this graphic knows Neil Gaiman, and is likely a fan of his wordcraft. What sets this piece apart (as it did Snow, Glass, Apples) is Colleen Doran’s art.
If you’ve experienced Snow, Glass, Apples (read being far too meager a word for that masterpiece), expect a different style to Doran’s work here. Whereas Snow was as much an homage to Irish Arts & Craft Movement pioneer Harry Clarke, each panel a stained glass treasure, as much as it was a delectably twisted retelling of Snow White, Troll Bridge is more shadowed whimsy, a children’s picture book aged and gloomed with time and reposited plumb in the lap of the adult reader. Her lines, style and color gradually change over the course of the story, pacing Jack’s maturation through the scenes, while also matching the darkening tone of the narrative (and Jack’s character).
As she did in Snow, Doran plays with panel structure, using the traditional box when it suits her and the flow of the story, then employing splashes, collages, spreads and frankly whatever else works to vary the pace of Gaiman’s narrative. And oh, baby, does it work. Troll Bridge is a graphic novel in its truest sense, a complete tale told through the trappings of sequential art. Unlike some previous adaptations of Gaiman’s work, however, Doran’s art and technique significantly enhances the piece, rather than simply drawing it into a glorified comic book. Truly a special production, and I couldn’t recommend it (or Snow) more highly.
And I would of course be remiss were I not to mention Todd Klein’s lettering. Perfectly placed so as not to disrupt the flow of Doran’s work but eloquent in its presentation of Gaiman’s words, Klein presents a variety of fonts appropriate to the character–and even the age of each–as they speak.
While you can certainly acquire the digital copy for less coin, you’ll absolutely want this one in hard copy form. And if you don’t have it already, pick up Snow at the same time. Trust me, they’ll be gorgeous additions to your bookshelf. And I would absolutely recommend purchasing them directly from Colleen Doran herself, via her online store (here)—she’ll personalize them for you (as she did mine, Fol ol de ol rol!), and if she’s of the mood, might even send you some neat goodies as well!
Review by Andy Patch, Contributing Editor
(Writer’s Edit: Colleen Doran posted today that sales of non-Distant Soil works are temporarily suspended due to her demanding schedule; watch for updates for the opportunity to order again!)