REVIEW: BiG’s The Oates & The Elphyne

Since his 2013 Image Comics series Comeback -- cartoonist Michael Walsh has worked on everything from Marvel's Star Wars to Jeff Lemire's Black Hammer. As co-creator of the horror anthology series The Silver Coin, Walsh has told some truly terrifying stories, so it may come as some surprise that his newest graphic novel is actually geared towards a younger audience. Published by Humanoids' young readers' imprint BiG, The Oates & The Elphyne is a remarkably imaginative and thoughtful graphic novel that will entertain readers of all ages.

The Oates & The Elphyne follows the Oates family as they travel to the East coast of Canada to help their cousins whose father recently passed away. When the children Ben, Lynn and Beth explore the nearby woods -- Beth, the youngest of the three, disappears in the wilderness, and her older siblings take it upon themselves to find her. Before long, they meet a fairy who takes them to a magical realm called the Elphyne and reveals that Beth's disappearance is linked to a sinister "corruption" that could be disastrous for both the Elphyne and the Oates family.

Walsh does an excellent job with the story's pacing. The story begins as a grounded family drama that establishes a charming, occasionally tense family dynamic before evolving into a fantasy adventure reminiscent of Madeleine L'engle's Wrinkle in Time and C.S Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. As Ben and Lynn explore the fantastical Elphyne, the pace picks up exponentially. Both the heroes and the audience are thrown into a whirlwind of new concepts, ferocious dragons, and zany wizards, pushing the story in bold new directions and raising the stakes with each new development. Each time it seems like the courageous siblings have finally gotten used to this bizarre new world, Walsh finds a way to recontextualize everything and add to the whimsical, heartfelt nature of the world.

His art complements his writing perfectly. Walsh's expressive style brings life and charisma to every single panel. He even finds a way to make scenes of siblings arguing in the car feel magical. So, when the heroes arrive in an actual magical realm, Walsh's art reaches incredible new heights. His depictions of the Elphyne convey an infectious sense of wonder. Each creature is more playfully designed than the next. His wild landscapes give credence to the otherworldly nature of the plot. Not to mention, they are beautifully rendered.

Walsh colors his own work in The Oates & The Elphyne with help from Dee Cunniffe. Together they have created a soft, but rich color palette that reinforces the tone of the story while highlighting Walsh's strengths as an artist. They employ an array of dark blues and purples to capture the mysterious, cold Canadian night. But, they use a soft, painterly texture to make each moment feel gentle and accessible.

The Oates & The Elphyne ends with a bittersweet twist that is sure to tug on the audience's heartstrings. Michael Walsh has created a wonderful world for readers of all ages to explore alongside Ben and Lynn. The story makes use of all the elements of classic children's literature while feeling remarkably contemporary. And the art is absolutely stunning. This graphic novel is a delight from start to finish.

Cover of Savage Avengers #1
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