Graphic novel review: Shadecraft by Henderson / Garbett / Fabella / Bowland (issues 1-5)

(image courtesy Image Comics)

Growing up is not easy.

We all know that much; if you were paying attention growing up, and most of us were, you’ll have realised pretty quickly that life often treated you as a chew toy to be gnawed on over and over, vigorously shaken from side-to-side like you were being held in the mouth by an overactive dog.

It is, not a lot of fun.

But spare a thought for Zadie Lu, protagonist of Shadecraft, a high schooler already grappling with big personal issues – think major family trauma and bullying by the more popular kids at school – who begins to suspect that the shadows she sees everywhere are out to get her.

In and of itself, that’s not so weird.

Popular culture is rife with the idea that things no one wants to come face-to-face with are lurking in the shadows, and conspiracy theorists delight in their scarily unhinged way in convincing themselves that the real work of the living takes places not out in the open but in the dark, shadowy places just out of sight.

So, it makes sense that Zadie would find shadows unnerving, especially since she is ducking and weaving her way through more than her fair share of existential hellishness.

But what’s really different for this brave young woman is that is really does look like the shadows are out together.

Wherever she’s walking, or running, after kissing something special who may not feel quite the same way back (awkward!), the art by Lee Garbett vividly demonstrates that Zadie likely does have quite a bit to worry about and that the sensation that the shadows are out to get there, isn’t an errant one.

Written by Joe Henderson, who worked with the entire Shadecraft team including Garbett, colourist Antonio Fabela and letterer Simon Bowland on the Eisner Award-winning series Skyward, Shadecraft brilliantly evokes that sense of feeling like you’re losing your mind when reality does not conform to commonly accepted ideas of how it should act.

After all, everyone knows that shadows are simply shapes cast when your body ends up between a source of light, usually the sun but equally an indoor light, and a surface; they’re a manifestation of the physical world and nothing more, right?

Well, right, unless you are Henderson and Garbett in which case they may be something far more scary and sinister.

Or are they?

(image courtesy Image Comics)

This is where Shadecraft really demonstrates how sophisticated and clever a series it really is. (Only five issues so far but we are promised two further arcs so hang in there.)

It plays with what the shadows may really represent and yes, while they are definitely freaky scary, could there be more going on than meets the eye and is there perhaps, and the answer to this is yes, always yes, more to fear from people than what might literally be lurking in the shadows?

Playing with the idea of what we should really fear is Shadecraft‘s stock in trade, and it excels at it, crafting a story that doesn’t play to the expected narrative routes and which has a surprising amount of fun doing so.

There’s definitely a lot of deftly placed and well-executed humour used throughout which plays a key role in leavening what is some pretty serious and emotionally intense storytelling at times.

Quips, oneliners and witty bon mots fly left, right and centre, mostly delivered by Zadie and her brother Ricky who have a typically love-hate (mostly love but shhhh don’t make a big deal of it, okay?) which sit at the heart of one young woman’s struggle to make sense of a rapidly-changing world around her.

As a metaphor for the messy uncertainties of growing up, Shadecraft hardly takes a unique tack; where it does come beautifully into its own is the way it which it uses the idea of shadowy powers and the dislocation of reality as Zadie knows it – in common with teenagers everywhere, reality is constantly changing and shifting, unnervingly and disorientingly so – to set in motion some key events which come to powerfully redefine Zadie, her life and that of her close if occasionally fractious family.

Shadecraft takes its time in letting us get to know Zadie, her friends and family, enriching a cleverly-told and highly-engaging story all the more by letting the humanity of the situation come through into a world that comes vividly can captivatingly alive in the hands of Garbett whose artwork is the perfect embodiment of Henderson’s tight, emotionally evocative writing.

Quite where it all leads is a spoiler or fifty too far; suffice to say though that Shadecraft does a thoroughly impressive job of taking us on one young woman’s journey from what she and her family were to what they are and could be, while grounding everything deep in the bosom of friendship, family and nascent humanity, all with artwork so vivaciously alive that you may just start seeking things coming to the fore in the shadows yourself.

(image courtesy Image Comics)

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