Graphic novel review: Twig by Skottie Young and Kyle Strahm

(courtesy Image Comics)

Saving the world is a big job.

A huge amount is resting on whomever the protagonist happens to be – the fate of all life, time itself often and existential everything – and the one thing you don’t want to be on your first day saving whatever your world happens to be is late.

And yet, that is precisely what our eponymous protagonist is as he prepares to step into the considerable shows of his father, a Placeling, whose sole job is to put “everything in its right place before saving can happen”, the hero behind the hero, or The Chosen as they are called, who eventually saves everyone and everything.

It’s a pretty intense gig and its Twig’s and the only problem being late is that The Chosen is usually smack bang on time, ready to avert doom and expecting, and they, and honestly this seems fair enough when all of existence is waiting on your every perfectly judged action, expect that everything they need to do their heroic best will be ready and waiting for them.

Which it stands a very real chance of not being, despite Twig, and his annoying bestie Splat, and newfound friend Lobee, the last of his kind and the sweetest roped-in companion since Bing Bing in Inside Out, doing their utmost best to fix the gem central to the whole endeavour which requires more than a few detours to some fantastical characters which takes times which — DEEP BREATH — is not optimal when you are … LATE.

Written by Skottie Young, who gave us the deliriously shrill, candy-coloured manic delights of I HATE FAIRYLAND, and drawn by Kyle Strahm who vividly, extravagantly and imaginatively redefines what a fantasy land should look like – his work is so lush and colourfully gorgeous that some double-pages are simply given over, and rightly so, to Twig journeying through all kinds of strange lands and past bizarre creatures – Twig is a supremely clever and utterly engaging graphic novel series.

Armed with a likably earnest but fun blue-furred protagonist who’s excited by following in his father’s footsteps but also overawed by the fact that he’s been selected to do so, and filled with characters who pop with vivacity off the page, thanks to sharp, punchy dialogue and larger-than-life illustrations that give brilliant form to Young’s lushly weird concepts, Twig is a cleverly endearing comic that is as sweet as it looks but which also has real and gritty emotional blood running in its candy-coloured veins.

It’s a rare trick to be both cute and intense all at once, but Twig manages it with aplomb, serving up a protagonist who may be all blue furry adorableness but who knows all too well how much is riding on his shoulders and who feels that he may not be up to the task.

(courtesy Image Comics)
(courtesy Image Comics)

He is, of course, but it takes five perfectly-paced and deliciously well-drawn issues for that to be definitively established and the story, while ending much as you expect it – this is not a criticism at all; part of the joy is knowing where it will end but being certain Young will defy all expectations and convention to get there – is a rollickingly enjoyable exercise in discovering just what you are capable of, and just as importantly, why surrounding yourself with brilliant friends will be critical to your success.

It’s often said that the joy is in the journey and while this might sound a little, or a lot, twee at times, in the case of Twig it is eminently true for while the ending is a brilliant ticking of the box that affirms that Twig is a good guy (and may also have a strangely sick side to him, wishing as he does to do it all over again which means, naturally, that the world must be imperilled again), a great deal of the fun is watching him scramble not to stuff up the setting up of the averting of the end of the world.

Some of that is character-driven with Twig, Splat and Lobee becoming an endearingly effective found family who manage to save each other over and over against enemies who like to skin hides and sell them or are a looming evil that looks a sabre-toothed, back lit furby with menacing intent, and possible helps like the Nektarmancer who, like the healer in The Princess Bride, are good at what they do but also hilariously loopy.

Then there are the landscapes – oh the glorious mini-worlds of a fantastical land that pop with colour, surge with life so weirdly odd that you cannot look away and which feel like world-building done superbly well, being both over-the-top strange but also innately possible if you take away all the certainties and physics of our own rather drab reality.

In an immersively colourful double-page spread in issue 1, Twig and Splat, map in hand, journey through a tropical looking vista, past weird stone structures that look like creatures caught mid-pose, a swamp full of bouncing, tentacled purple beings, a rainy striped giant worm land, a glowing yellow-dotted place of giant turtles and a Teletubbies-esque land full of mushroom-splodged eggplant-like plant life.

And that’s just six of the escapistly brilliant worlds Strahm conjures up, all of them given heart and life by Young’s writing which is less manic than normal but every bit as human and emotionally resonant, reflecting this gifted writer’s ability to be both off-the-charts wildly weird and yet affectingly heartfelt in a way that feels coterminously deeply, truly grounded and blisteringly, divertingly imaginative.

Twig is, no matter how you slice it, and trust me one of the characters tries, a DELIGHT, as we bear witness to one likably flawed and earnestly determined protagonist to overcome his inner demons (yes, even cute story drivers can have them), believe in himself, trust others’ abilities and judgement and to deliver on the task he has been set, not just to save the world as he knows it, which let’s face it is important, but to believe in himself to such an extent that maybe he wants to do it all again?

Maybe he does, but for now, he and Splat and Lobee head home, ready for new adventures which we know are happily coming thanks to a final page reassurance …

TWIG WILL RETURN.

(courtesy Image Comics)
(courtesy Image Comics)

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