Review: ‘The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America’
The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America
Writer/artist: Jaime Hernandez
Toon Books; $9.99 or $16.95
For years, Jaime Hernandez’s work with his brothers on seminal alternative comic Love and Rockets introduced adult comics readers to the sorts of cool, charismatic, complex young Latina women he grew up with. In The Dragon Slayer, a new Toon Books collection that represents Hernandez’s very first work specifically for children, he introduces a pair of young heroines that are similar to those of his earlier comics work, even if their conflicts are many times more simple and fanciful.
The first is the title character, the youngest and most beautiful of a poor farmer’s three daughters, whose jealous elder sisters see that she is cast out. She is soon rewarded by a mysterious old woman for an act of kindness, earning a magic wand. With it, she secures a job at the palace, but while magic helps her along in life, it also requires quite a bit of courage and more kindness still to complete a couple of quests–see the title for the first–and secure the right to marry the handsome prince.
The second heroine is Martina Martinez from “Martina Martinez and Perez The Mouse,” writer Alma Flor Ada’s version of the traditional story of Raton Perez’s marriage from Tales Our Abuelitas Told. When Martina buys a new red ribbon and puts on her prettiest dress, she catches the eye of a series of animal suitors–a cat, a dog, a rooster–but the one she chooses to marry is little Raton Perez.
Things go well for the young couple until one day tragedy strikes–He falls into a pot of boiling soup. Martina mourns, as do those around her, some in extravagantly melodramatic ways, until a wise old woman saves the day, and the story about the accidental death of Martina’s husband ends quite happily.
The final of the three tales is the only one to feature a male protagonist. “Tup and The Ants” is another story of three siblings, these ones brothers. The eldest two are big, strong and hard-working, but not too bright. Tup is…well, he’s not too terribly bright either, but, to make matters worse, he is the opposite of big, strong and hard-working. Luckily, he knows some pretty hard workers, and he hires ants to do his work for him while he naps and rests, resulting in the most impressive of the three fields of corn.
All three stories are remarkable in the efficiency of their telling: Just ten pages each, with those pages mostly divided into six-panel grids. Hernandez’s mastery of the medium is evident in how much story he fits into such small spaces and how gracefully that story glides through his beautifully drawn pages. Stripped down and simplified, his art is similarly efficient, with just enough shapes and lines to convey the emotion and action—and none wasted on unnecessary detail.
It’s a perfect work for adults who grew up on Love and Rockets to share with their children, and it’s an equally perfect introduction to the rich folklore immediately to the south of the U.S. As the introduction states, this region is a particularly fertile place for stories to spring from, as the traditions of Old World empires blended with those of the New World centuries ago and began a gradual synthesis.
This being a Toon Book, there is of course an introduction, as well as an essay in the back, helping contextualize the stories, should a young reader (and/or their parent, and/or their teacher) want to use The Dragon Slayer as a springboard into Latin American folktales in general. F. Isabel Campoy, the aforementioned Ada’s collaborator on Tales Our Abuelitas Told, wrote the introduction, while Ada wrote a few pages worth of back matter, which includes a bibliography of suggested reading.
Unfortunately, the tales encountered in those books won’t be brought to life by Hernandez’s art, but perhaps we can hope for a More Folktales from Latin America from him in the future.
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.
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