Anyone who knows children who enjoy the Goosebumps or American Chiller series needs to hand those youngsters a copy of Scared to Death: Malevolence and Mandrake. Virginie Vanholme provides just the right amount of chills, danger, and humor for young readers.
The protagonists of the series--Robin, Max, and Sophie--are characters children can connect with. Like Max, Robin enjoys comics and video games--and though it’s obvious through their dialog and actions that Robin is the more intelligent of the two boys, Max has street smarts that serve him in good stead.
The teen-age Robin is conscientious (but not to a fault) while his sister, Sophie, is intelligent but not precocious. There’s a wonderful scene that sums up Sophie’s character. As she and Robin set out to save Max from certain danger, she still can’t resist stopping to talk to her friends as they Trick or Treat. She’s a courageous, but easily distracted, little girl.
Sophie lives to annoy her older brother--though she’ll do anything in her power to save him from real danger--and she has a major crush on Max, which is a key plot point. When a new girl enters Robin and Max’s class, Max is more than willing to help her feel at home. However, Sophie is suspicious.
Just who is this girl? Where did she come from? And could she have something to do with the disappearance of Thomas, a classmate of Robin and Max’s? It becomes a Halloween to remember when the trio discovers the answers to Sophie’s questions.
The plot moves along quickly with no wasted panels. The book opens with a wonderfully spooky scene that is sure to grab readers’ interest, then jumps to the more mundane school setting. Throughout the volume, Vanholme jumps back and forth between the natural and supernatural, increasing the tension until the two worlds collide.
Another level to the story comes with the addition of the comic book and video games series that the boys follow--an aspect that further blurs the lines between the natural and supernatural, and which foreshadows later events. The grounding of the supernatural in the everyday makes the horror elements that much more effective, and Vanholme’s control over the story is such that it’s never confusing. Readers should be able to follow along without problems.
Colorist Laurent Carpentier is another reason the story is easy to follow. Scenes involving the supernatural are green tinged. Panels depicting everyday life are colored with yellows, tans, and oranges–late Autumn colors that fit the season. Robin’s comic book and video games have a steel-blue background. When evil steps into the natural world, the scene is tinged with grey. This color-coding is a subtle visual clue that helps readers keep their bearings.
Mauricet’s character designs are clean and open--reminding me in some respects of Naoki Urasawa’s work in Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka. They have that “created for animation” look to them.
The backgrounds also have a simplified look. Mauricet focuses on a few key elements that frame the action and suggests the rest. There’s an absolutely beautiful panel showing the villain digging in the ground. Behind her is a low, full moon framed by skeletal trees--a very simple scene, but very evocative.
Mauricet uses a variety of different sized panels and angles to convey a sense of movement, moving in and out around the action. There’s not a stiff or awkward scene anywhere. Finally, sharp-eyed readers will also enjoy the tributes to Spider-Man, The Flash, Harry Potter, Pokemon, and other pop culture icons in the backgrounds.
People who miss Leave it to Chance or who just enjoy a good scary story really need to check out this book.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!