By John Marc DeMatteis and Jon J Muth
Yes, that’s right, I said Graphic novel. Not comic. If any work deserved to avoid the negative baggage of the sequential story-telling medium it is this one. Not only does it have a literary sensibility strong enough to justify the novel tag, it could even quite happily be a penguin classic if you added in a few humourless, patronising and distracting foot notes. The story of a young boy’s journey from innocence to experience, it falls firmly into the bildungsroman genre, specifically the masochistic bildungsroman of works like Candide or Nathanael West’s A Cool Million. In a presumed attempt by the author to punish his past self for his surrendered innocence (which, if we think back on our own over-earnest teenage years is all understandable), the eponymous hero suffers indignity, disease and betrayal as his romantic world view is extracted with a rusty hook.
When looked upon as independent sections matters are not always subtle, and you are reminded that the author also co-wrote the Justice League during it’s humourous late 80s phase. However if the characters are drawn with broad brush-strokes it is of a piece with what you might find in, say, Dickens or Moses. And it all adds to the archetypal feel of the work.
Perhaps the reason why few graphical works achieve a level where they could be referred to as literature is that they have twice the opportunity to fail. To succeed either the author must be one of the few, the happy few, artists who are also able to write well, or the collaborators are fortunate enough to have complimentary visions. That is definitely the case here, where Muth adapts his style to the plot sympathetically, from sketchy caricature to languid Klimt-esque eroticism, whilst not losing an over-arching and cohesive vision. And it’s mighty pretty.
There are, of course, downsides. Pleasure needs be bedded with her cruel master disappointment at all times, thus is the cosmic balance maintained. Throughout Moonshadow’s journey he is placed in numerous perilous positions, yet there is very rarely a sense of peril. Partly due to the fact that the narrator is the hero in his dotage, yet also due to a feeling of invulnerability as he drifts from one disaster to another. He even manages to keep his cat with him, for G’l Doses’s sake, whereas my two cannot make it to the end of our road without getting spooked and running up a tree with a tail as bushy as a Scotsman’s beard.
Also, whilst one gets a slight sense of superiority from reading a weighty novel on the tube, the stigma attached to having pictures mean this must needs be consumed at home. Finally, for the duration of the book you will have ‘Moonshadow’ by Cat Stevens stuck in your head.
Regardless, this is a work of real beauty and profundity. It's subject matter is all human life, and there are no definitive resolutions save that most definitive of all, and if you can read the final chapter without feeling the approach of manly yet sensitive tears then you are not welcome at my table.
I’ll lend it to you if you want.