"The Weirding Willows: Volume 1 – What the Wild Things Are" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Titan Comics
Written by Dave Elliot
Illustrated by Barnaby Bagenda and Sami Basri
2014, 104 Pages
Graphic Novel released on July 1st, 2014
There are dozens of books that are considered classics in the literature world. I don't think I've read any of them. I have, however, read many works that were inspired by them. Weirding Willows takes this to the extreme. Author Dave Elliot doesn't just take inspiration from classics such as Alice in Wonderland or the Island of Dr. Moreau. Instead, he asks questions like “What happened next?” or “How did he get there?” The result is a comic that intertwines many characters from public domain works to continue and enhance their stories.
Jumping into Weirding Willows can be a little intense. Within the first chapter alone, you're introduced to a fully grown Alice (formerly from Wonderland); her father Dr. Moreau; his client Miss Marche (the Wicked Witch of the West); his colleagues Monty Doolittle (Dr. Doolittle's son) and Dr. Jekyll; and several characters from The Jungle Book. I don't think there's an original character in the bunch. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Elliot has created a world where all of these people co-exist and in some cases are related. While it can be a bit jarring at first (Alice is really Dr. Moreau's daughter?), it actually works out when you take a second to think about it.
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Combining the worlds of characters like these is nothing new. Zenescope has built almost their entire comic line from it. The problem with Weirding Willows is that it tries to do too much too soon. As mentioned above, you're bombarded with tons of new – or rather old – within the first chapter alone so you don't get much in the way of character development as each new one is introduced. Elliot explains places like Oz and Wonderland can exist with the real world, but it might have been better to focus on one of these at a time to really establish a given area.
Although Elliot is using existing characters, he does bring new voices to them. Moreau is a focused scientist, not unlike Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four (except without all that stretchy stuff). Weirding Willows takes place before he got the island so it's interesting to see what he was like before he became a monster. The reverse is true for Alice. She really did go to Wonderland as a child, but no one believed her. Now she's eighteen years old and she's had several years of people thinking she was just looking for attention. That has given her a bit of an attitude, especially when dealing with her father.
Barnaby Bagenda and Sami Basri share art duties on Weirding Willows. I can't tell you who did what as they're not credited with specific areas. If I had to guess, I'd say one artist handled the first five chapters and the other drew the last two as the styles are different. Between the two, the former is a little rough while the latter is very clean and crisp. The overall style works well with the story, especially when dealing with some of the characters. Miss Marche for example is always seen with an air of confidence around her. She immediately takes over any room that she enters. Although she doesn't say much, you understand that she's powerful.
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There is a fantastic two-page spread towards the end of this volume that shows Wonderland in all its glory. Elliot comments on this in the afterword, pointing out that it doesn't need to reflect Victorian England if it did not come from the imagination of a nine-year-old girl as some believe. Instead, it's almost like something out of a sci-fi movie, with huge turtle-like creatures roaming the land with giant mushrooms growing on their backs. If this is what Wonderland looks like, I can't wait to see Oz.
Weirding Willows is a great idea that needs a little more room to grow. The first volume is a little short, coming in at just over 100 pages with a chunk of those devoted to brief character profiles. Elliot has made some interesting connections between characters that had no other relationship aside from sitting next to one another on the bookshelf. He also promises that even more are on the way, including Thor and Hercules. They'll join the likes of Frankenstein's monster, the cast from The Wind in the Willows, and a werewolf among the others already mentioned.