Thursday, March 30, 2023

Nanoreview: Peculiar Woods by Andrés J. Colmenares

A gentle fantasy about the many meanings of home

From Andrés J. Colmenares, the artist behind the adorable webcomic Wawawiwa, comes a graphic novel with deep worldbuilding, understated characterization, and a whimsical sense of humor: Peculiar Woods, whose first entry, The Ancient Underwater City, tells the story of Iggie, a sensitive boy who moves to a new town near the forest and becomes intrigued by the secrets of a lake that doesn't appear on the map. As he learns to adapt to a different school, a mysterious forest and a new family situation, he meets unexpected friends in the objects around him.

That's the magic of this town: without warning, without any clear pattern, objects come to life. Against his mother's advice, Iggie goes on a risky adventure with his blanket, which can wrap itself to walk or spread wide to fly; his chair, a yoga enthusiast with anger management issues; and a chess king, which is convinced that he has a kingdom to return to. The quest to help the chess king find his home ends up uncovering clues about the origin of the lake, the creatures that hide nearby, and the magic that animates objects. The final pages lead to a strong cliffhanger that promises more revelations to come.

There's an irresistible sweetness to this story. For reasons to be explained in future entries, Iggie has so far lived separated from his mother, and he's very aware of his feelings of vulnerability and loneliness, even as he strives to not let them show. Over the course of this adventure, he starts learning to share his fears and open up to others who are as vulnerable as he is. This is a beautiful emotional journey to watch; one is immediately captivated by Iggie's thoughtful and delicate personality. In the design of this character, the story succeeds at avoiding a common pitfall of children's literature: the protagonist experiences noticeable inner growth, but never in a manner incongruous with his age.

The author's trademark visual style suits greatly the book's emotional content. The palette is soft, without sharp contrasts; the lines have a hand-drawn appearance that doesn't try to hide irregularities; and the facial expressions have just the intensity needed. The combination of these artistic elements is effective without looking calculated. Like the characters in Wawawiwa, those in Peculiar Woods make odd choices that make total sense once the full story is considered. Even in a world that has bullies and scheming villains, Peculiar Woods doesn't lose its firm grounding in the inherent kindness of people.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Reference: Colmenares, Andrés J. Peculiar Woods: The Ancient Underwater City [Andrews McMeel, 2023].