Three days before the end of 2017, I found myself facing the dilemma of having read only 29 of the 34 books I’d planned to read that year. I had three options to meet my Goodreads challenge: (1) fail or (2) cheat by indicating I had met my target. Instead I choose a third option—read some of the many graphic novels I’d purchased or downloaded. Over three days I read five different novels of varying lengths, each one completed in 30 minutes to two hours. Immersing myself in these often visually stunning and occasionally poignant works was much more of a pleasure than a chore.
A Witch on Chicken Legs and Other Stories
Baba Yaga’s Assistant, a middle grade comic book by by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll featured my favorite fairy tale character when I was a child. Baba Yaga is a witch in Russian folklore who consumes bad children and lives in a house on chicken legs. Becoming Baba Yaga’s assistant provides the main character, Masha, the opportunity to find a purpose after the death of her mother by helping bad children become good ones and thereby helping the children avoid her boss’s plate.
Two of the most beautiful were intended for adults–Beauty by Kerascoët and Hubert–illustrates how important it is be careful what you wish for. Troll Bridge by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran initially feels like a children’s fairy tale but delivers a much more adult message. It relates the story of a boy repeatedly avoiding the consequences of a troll whom he calls “all my nightmares given flesh.” When he reaches adulthood the boy now a man who has betrayed someone he loves gives in to the bitter end the troll has waiting for him. The grotesque scenes mix with beautiful illustrations of nature.
The Intersection Between the Real and the Imagined
The most poignant for me was Becoming Unbecoming . Using black and white and mostly muted tones, the author and artist who goes by Una tells a powerful story of the women in her small town in Yorkshire who were killed by a serial murderer—and how the police made inaccurate assumptions about the woman that kept the real killer from being identified putting more women at risk. She juxtaposes this story line with her own history of sexual abuse. The book was so powerful that I revised my manuscript, Gem of the Starry Skies. The main character Gwen reads the book and relate it to her own experience with being threatened by a boy at her school, a boy who had attempted to assault her at a party.
The Picture that Inspired a Fictional Place
What all of these books have in common is that they tell stories through the power of images. That fact reminded me how my newest work in progress, set in a rural area, has been influenced by the image above that I found when searching stock images. The picture immediately took me to a place that seemed familiar yet also unreal and mystical. This is the countryside that is the home of the Sullivans—Ash and Naomi—a brother and sister whose lives are changed when an unusual carnival comes to town.
Pictures in my head—conjured from dreams, meditation, letting my mind wander—are the seeds as well as the foundation of any writing I create. I look forward to what my subconscious will find next and the story it will tell.