Comic Solutions

Oedipus Trapped by Destiny

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 12.35.07 PMOedipus: Trapped by Destiny
Yvan Pommaux (Illustrator), Richard Kutner (Translator)
June 7, 2016
Toon Books

Gather around and hear this ancient story of a young man born to a terrible fate. One which he cannot escape. King Laius and his lovely Queen Jacosta are delighted with the news that they will have a child. Sure that it is to be a boy Laius traveled to the oracles to confirm, whereupon he is told a horrible prediction: the young prince will kill his father and marry his mother. Laius decides to kill his son before that prophecy can ever be filled and a trusted servant leaves the child in the fields to be eaten by the wild animals nearby. But fate cannot be avoided so easily. And the child survives. And the gods will not be denied.

One of the things that I’ve grown to love about Toon Books, well basically since the first time I read one of their books, is that they seek the best of the best to create books that will be loved and cherished, and that most importantly don’t talk down to their readers, which to me is the most important thing to look for in a books geared towards a younger audience. They don’t try to hide the story of what happened to the characters that we’re reading about or the trials and tribulations they went through. Because far too often in a book like this, you wouldn’t see this type of tale told in comic style, because of the types of questions that younger readers are likely to ask. Like “How the heck can Oedipus marry his mom??” But Toon Books encourages questions and that is important for all ages.

In this retelling of Oedipus’s tragic story French Cartoonist Yvan Poummaux brings all of his talents to bear to weave a story that will capture the reader’s attention and enthrall them with the tale that they’re reading. While the story itself is a fairly traditional retelling of poor Oedipus, the artwork is what makes the difference in this story. Poummaux allows the reader to see the faces of the characters close up and pays particular attention to their expressions, to show their shock and horror as they hear their fate or realize what they’ve done. Given that this is a tale of tragedy (as most Greek tales are) are muted and dim, allowing the subtle grimness of the tale to seep into the art. Even the pages themselves are tinted to a somber paleness too never give off the impression that there is hope. Even for a second.

In terms of pacing some readers might be a bit confused as Poummaux varies his grid panel depending upon what part of the story he’s at. And while the story always moves downward, the reader should pay particular attention to how the panels are moving, as it emphasizes parts of the story more than others. Full panel pages allow the reader to see the horror in the characters faces, while panels spaced three or more on a page give the reader a broader sense of the beats of the story, allowing them to build tension and start to visualize what might come next. This type of storytelling while common in Europe, has been less common in the States. Although this is slowly changing as more publishers, like Toon Books and First Second, seek to bring the best stories to their readers.

My one minor quibble with the book is that they include pronunciations of the names of the characters at the very bottom of the page, which sometimes get lost amidst the illustrations. I would say that a bounding box would help with that, but honestly it would take away from the story even more. I think the best solution is one that they already have in the closing endpapers are an index of characters and locations, providing more information on each, including pronunciations. I think this would be less confusing and help keep the flow of the story. The opening endpapers are also part of the story, giving readers a map that show the location of the various events in the book.

This is a solid book and continuation of the Toon mythology series. I would recommend this for any library system, young or old, as it will help readers better understand the story they’re reading about.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

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