Book Review: Hopeless, Maine
Awestruck is the first word that comes to mind when describing my reaction to this graphic novel. Tom and Nimue Brown have created quite a masterpiece here, an imaginative gothic tale full of dark magic and suspense with just the right touch of dry humor. The artwork is compelling, as much a "character" in the story as the actual characters themselves; I'd love to step right through the page and onto the island of Hopeless, Maine with all its strange eyeballs and tentacles writhing and squishing in dark corners. The glow-y bits are especially wonderful (how on earth did they do that?) and the characters' facial expressions tell as much of the story as the words do. As I read, I spent a lot of time contemplating the artwork, looking at all the details and feeling the motion within each panel.
Salamandra is a marvelous, spunky heroine with attitude who must find her way in the world against all kinds of odds (and I do mean "odd"s - the people and creatures she meets are strange, unique, creepy, and magical, but then, so is she). I'll be honest, I've gotten really tired of all the books out there that are "same old, same old" and this is nothing like that. The story is dark and a little depressing but Salamandra's persistence in the face of it all keeps the book from being overwhelmingly gloomy, and the deadpan humor (especially in the conversation between Sal and her friend Owen) is spot on.
I have two minor quibbles with this book, and I think here the blame falls to the publisher and not the artist/author(s). First, the whole thing is incredibly dark, visually; the page backgrounds are black around artwork that's already very dark. I realize they printed it that way for effect, but it makes it difficult to really see the art clearly. I have to wonder if perhaps the printing in the book came out darker than the original artwork; at least, the Hopeless, Maine artwork I've seen online looks a tad lighter than the stuff on the page. I recommend reading with very bright lighting so you can properly appreciate the incredible art. Second, the Prelude, which is several pages of lovely poetic verse interspersed with artwork, has print that's so small it's very difficult to read, which is a shame, because what it says is awesome, dark, and touching.
In spite of these drawbacks, I can't help but give this book a strong recommendation. You really should read it. It's a feast for the eyes and the mind. And if you don't end up rooting for Salamandra the way I did, I might have to question your values.