You may be familiar with the name Mark Chadbourne from his Lord of Misrule series of books. I hadn’t heard of Chadbourne or his books before reading this comic, but Book of Shadows apparently serves as a two-part prequel to the cycle of novels, without depending on a reader’s knowledge of the books for things to make sense. That’s a good thing because, as I mentioned, I have no idea of the back-story of this thing.
But the fact that you don’t need to know the back-story doesn’t mean that Chadbourn doesn’t use elements of his story in this comic. The comic is the story of Annie Lovelock, who is continually in mourning over the death of her boyfriend. It’s not stated, but I think the subtext is that the boyfriend committed suicide, and Annie blames herself for his death. Annie decides to dabble in magic, really as “a search for some kind of pattern in the miserable chaos of life” more than out of belief, when, lo and behold, Annie’s magic summons a dark creature called the Morrigan, who changes Annie’s life. From the moment of their encounter, Annie starts encountering mystical strangeness. She can understand the speech of animals, has a train she’s riding in destroyed by a dragon, meets Catalin, an evil ruler of dark creatures. In short, Annie finds herself in a world of magic and mystery, where she’s forced to find her way.
It’s pretty much a straight fantasy story, at turns clever and a bit familiar. Unlike something like Harry Potter, Chadbourn’s story mines the standard fantasy set-pieces without an element of humor or without a hook to get us really interested in Annie. Okay, I kept thinking, this girl made a big mistake and got connected to some magical creatures. Can we please move forward to the scene where she realizes her full potential and becomes a great magician? Because while the specific events in this comic aren’t predictable, it seems clear where this whole thing is going.
Bo Hampton is a wonderful artist for a project like this. It’s no surprise that his dragon is breathtaking, and that his mystical creatures seem to inhabit the real world. What I wasn’t prepared for was the wonderful way he draws Annie, all uncertain and confused, seeming to tremble with fear at the slightest noise happening around her. Hampton draws Annie with a wonderfully subtle style that really helps the reader empathize with her.
The story alone makes the comic deserve Cover Image: http://www.comicsbulletin.com/main/sites/default/files/reviews/images/3bullets.jpg” >. It’s very ordinary, standard fantasy stuff. But Hampton’s art is wonderful, and gives this story much of its depth for me. This comic is worth seeking out for its wonderful artwork, not so much for its ordinary feeling story.