5 out of 5
Kids media has changed – for the better, by my opinion – over the past decade or so. I’m not going to prattle on (er, too much) as to what the origin point of that might be, but we’ve been able to shift to comics / cartoons that are often more respectful of kids’ capabilities – to be lil’ thinking beings. This isn’t true for all kids media, or course, but, in general, there isn’t the same hand-holding requirements, or borders, that once seemed to limit the kinds of worlds on display. That said, there can still be the old standby of an us vs. them mentality; not in an aggressive sense, rather just positing that whatever fantasy world a protagonist inhabits, maybe it’s not experienced by stuffy adults, or by everyone. That, or the entirety of the world is given over to the fantasy, a la something like Adventure Time, so that it’s all so ridiculous, there’s no need to draw any such outlines.
Rarer – and I’d argue more mature, and maybe more appealing for that reason – is a setup that truly places a kid protagonist on even ground within its magical realms; where there is no us versus them, but rather, a world reflective of “reality”, while still allowing for all of the loose-logicked inventiveness of imagination. Even before Luke Pearson’s first Hilda book kicks off, you can sense it operating within those parameters; it was a book (and series) I loved even before I’d gotten more than a page in.
It’s all there in the establishing shot: Hilda’s house, a small, wooded thing, amidst a mix of wonders… and normality. You see some giants hanging out, and small illustrations of other potential creatures, but then the map also marks things like ‘the old bridge,’ and ‘rock pool’; this is just where Hilda happens to live – it’s essentially normal. Y’know, except for those giants.
This proceeds throughout: Hilda’s day is reading, and hanging out with her pet fox Twig, and she asks her mom if she can go outside and sketch, and her mom is supportive of that – though with an undercurrent of knowing her daughter has a tendency to get mixed up in hijinx… And then also the Wood Man – a little man, literally made of wood – just walks into their house, and lays down in front of the fire. Hilda fusses over this; mom just shrugs it off. Business as usual. Hilda, on her outdoor adventure, finds a troll rock to sketch, and we learn a little bit of lore about this figure within the world of Hilda: coming alive at night, petrified during the day; Hilda hangs a bell off of the stone-troll’s nose to alert her if it arises. Later, she hears the bell ring…
It’s all so casual, but enlivened by Hilda’s own spirit – that essential spirit of childhood. Pearson’s is a simple, stylized form, with a wonderfully pleasant earthy color palette, but the same grounding aspect of the narrative style carries through in the pictures as well: buildings, nature; these things feel real, the linework giving them weight. The troll and Twig and the Wood Man fit within this world very naturally. And then there’s Pearson’s droll humor bouncing off of this, which is another welcomed twist to the usually more obvious style of jokes in kids books.
Also includes an excerpt from the book on trolls Hilda is reading (a further bit of world-building); a 2-page Wood Man strip; and some Hilda sketches from Pearson.