Review: ‘Windmill Dragons’
Writer/artist: David Nytra
TOON Books; $18.95
Cartoonist David Nytra’s first graphic novel for TOON Books, 2012’s The Secret of The Stone Frog, featured two young children falling asleep and waking up in a surreal, superbly detailed, intricately illustrated black-and-white Wonderland-like world that suggested a half-dozen or so different classic children’s books. The sister and brother heroes, drawn in slightly more abstracted, less heavily inked style by Nytra, were like a pair of Little Nemos, comic characters who visited a lost world of nursery novella illustration in their sleep.
Nytra’s follow-up, Windmill Dragons, subtitled “A Leah and Alan Adventure,” uses a very similar premise, only this time the children nod off while older sister Leah reads to Alan beneath a tree, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland-style, rather than in their nursery just before Leah is ready to get her own room, Peter Pan-style, as was the case last time.
The title will of course suggest to grown-ups Cervantes’ Don Quixote, whose protagonist is famous for tilting at windmills he saw as monsters, and, indeed, Nytra’s allusions and inspirations all seem a bit more literary and grown-up here. Which isn’t to say the book isn’t still one for kids, of course. It’s an all-ages adventure story with a quest narrative starring two children, and “getting” all of the references isn’t mandatory, or even all that important to the enjoyment of the story (although, in typical educational fashion, TOON includes five little illustrated entries at the end of the book, explaining that Nytra plucked inspiration from Cervantes, Geoffery Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Bible and bestiaries and Amerindian design-work).
Alan and his dog Rowdy are playing rowdily while Leah reads quietly beneath a tree…from what appears to be a book of monsters. When Alan sits down next to her, she begins to read to him, and they again enter a dream story. In this one, nature is out of balance, and a mighty bird monster flaps its wings, creating a dozen winds that resemble those drawn on old maps. These blow ill winds that transform all of the windmills into dragons of sorts, no two exactly alike.
These monsters of brick, propellers, and gears fly about terrorizing the home village of our two heroic knights, Leah and Alan (mounted upon a horse and donkey, respectively). To get to the root of the problem, they seek out and rescue the world’s greatest authority on dragons of all kinds, Sir George, who tells them they must journey to Monster Island, home of Leviathan, Behemoth, and Ziz, the last of whom is the monstrous bird whose flapping caused the ill winds.
Along the way they encounter a wizard mounted upon a giant chicken that lays an egg full of magical items, an inn-keeping ogre, and a meat-eating boat, and they discover the ocean isn’t so different from a common bathtub—only much, much larger.
As with The Secret of The Stone Frog, Windmill Dragons is so beautifully designed and illustrated that one need not even read it to derive great enjoyment from it. There’s something to be said for simply staring at Nytra’s line-work, the variety of his windmill monsters, and the elaborate work he put into imagining the primordial monsters of land, sea, and air, creatures that artists have been drawing over and over for centuries, but which here look completely original, and at least lean in the direction of creatures that could exist in the natural world. (Nytra’s Behemoth, for example, seems composed mostly of attributes one might find in ancient, extinct giant mammals, and his Leviathan has at its base a particularly titanic blue whale.)
Intentionally or not, then, Nytra has moved backwards in literary history toward medieval times, seemingly leaving fairy tales behind for myths. Perhaps this reflects the interest of his growing protagonists and their more sophisticated reading? Or erhaps not. In either case, this is a bigger, richer, and more elaborate Leah and Alan adventure, and one that makes the prospect of another all the more exciting.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
SLJ Blog Network