Created and written by Tom and Nimue Brown, Hopeless, Maine: Personal Demons is the story of a little girl named Salamandra who lives on a hidden island just off the coast of Maine. The denizens of Hopeless haven’t seen the sun in forever. The parents of this gloomy island are constantly disappearing giving rise to a booming orphan population. And on top of all that, demons inhabit the entire island. Yes, actual physical demons with pointy teeth and huge appetites flit about the town and loom ever-present through the entire story.
Salamandra is a little girl who is found living alone in a sizable Victorian house. This is how a young woman by the name of Nightshade finds Salamandra. “My mother wants to drink me,” is one of many odd things the little girl says throughout Hopeless, Maine. Another odd bit about Salamandra is that she commands great magic. This is learned after a rather unfortunate occurrence with the good samaritan Miss Nightshade’s chair. The decision is made then and there that Salamandra cannot stay there so she is whisked off to the town’s orphanage where our story slowly, slowly begins moving forward.
It is the pacing of Hopeless, Maine that I have the most problems. If you tell me that a little girl who recently lost her demon-raising/supernatural loving parents is forced to live in the bleakest orphanage imaginable all the while dealing with feelings of estrangement and getting a handle on being a potentially powerful magic user, well, you half sold me on that pitch alone. Now if you methodically take me through every step and trope to get me there, you begin to lose my interest.
All the necessary parts are there and move like clockwork but, after her introduction in chapter one, I didn’t feel anything for Salamandra until chapter four. It’s no small coincidence that this is when she begins to actively participate with her environment…in all its various forms.
The illustrations by Tom Brown are beautiful. It’s like a Neil Gaiman dream for kids. Although I did have problems with some of the characters not being distinct. The human faces where beautifully drawn, when appropriate, and easily conveyed the characters feelings. As the story proceeds one face began to meld together into the others. Whenever there was a crowd of raven haired gloomy children it was difficult to sort out the protagonists from the rest. Some of the visual storytelling was also amiss but this was mainly during action sequences. Case in point, the first chat between Salamandra and the orphanage’s head caretaker stands out as a prime example.
I had no problems with the backgrounds and demon designs. I found myself constantly searching for where the next lidless eye-tendril mass would appear to stare blankly, creepily, into space. One last note on my illustration likes, in the beginning it was the supernatural bits, be it demon or magical in origin, that dominated the grey landscape with strong greens and blues. As the story progressed and Salamandra becomes more sure of herself, the drab town/island of Hopeless, Maine earned the right of color. It was a nice reference to Salamandra’s worldview widening as she crawled out from her protective mental shell.
Hopeless, Maine is a dark fantasy starter comic for kids who enjoy visiting the shadow worlds that live inside closets and under their beds. Older kids will appreciate the illustrations and the demon designs but make no mistake, this is a tale for the little ones. Those that can handle monster tales, of course.