In The Reason For Dragons, the new graphic novel from Archaia, Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely explore this idea to its fullest. This is a coming-of-age adventure filled with fire-breathing dragons, knights, misunderstood relationships and bravery at its best.
Wendell is a scrawny, geeky teen who just wants to fit in. Bullied by thugs from school and feeling less important than his step-father, Ted’s, precious motorcycle named Lilly, Wendell is disappointed with life in general. When pushed by two tormenters into entering the abandoned, “haunted” Arthurian fair at the edge of town, Wendell seizes the opportunity as a way to prove his fearlessness. What Wendell finds at the fairgrounds is something he didn’t expect: a man dressed as a knight who believes himself to actually be a knight. As Wendell and the knight, Sir Habersham, spend the night avoiding a “dragon,” it becomes apparent to Wendell that his acquaintance is insane””or is he?
The Reason For Dragons is the kind of fantastical story I grew up on and often miss when reading the dire, grim tales so often published today. Northrop has created something really special here, displaying the metaphorical correlation between dragons and trials. Tribulations and obstacles will always present themselves in the ordinary individual’s life; sometimes, it takes a suspension of disbelief and an act of bravery to overcome such hindrances.
With in-your-face imagery and believable characters, Stokely helped to transport me into Wendell’s world. From the unnerving panels of Wendell running through the dark forest, to the misplaced knight, I felt as much a part of the story as Wendell himself.
Equally as entertaining as the title story, are the short stories featured at the end. Written and illustrated by various collaborators, these shorts give an extra look at the three main characters. I was especially impressed by two in particular:
“This One Time In “˜Nam,” written by Julia Fung tells the tale of Ted’s first encounter with a Vietnamese girl named Lilly while on duty in Vietnam and his subsequent courageous act. The story is illustrated by Zoe Chevat in gritty, black and white, giving a good feel for the desperate situation.
“The Buttermaid,” by Josh Trujillo is a 3-page comic offering another glimpse into the character of Wendell as well as a comical look at his relationship with Ted. Ben Bishop’s illustrations, with defined character interpretations, enhance the story with humorous and wondrous scene to scene transitions that would make Scott McCloud of Making Comics proud.
The Reason For Dragons is a great addition to Archaia’s growing collection of wonderful graphic novels. Northrop and Stokely, along with their additional team, have created a real gem, rich with honesty and hope. I can’t wait for their next book!
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