The Lost Boy
Created by: Greg Ruth
Published by: Scholastic
ISBN: 0439823323 (Amazon)
After Bone, I didn’t know what to do for my daughter. She’s four-and-a-half now and ready for more fantasy-adventure that’s top-of-genre caliber. I read her Bone when she was two (and crossing over into three) and since then, we’ve been pretty hungry for something similarly incredible.
We’ve found books to fill in the gaps, of course. She was a sucker for the joie de vivre and wonder of Zita and her Spacegirl derring-do. She gobbled up Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise (mostly for sightings of Momo and Appa). She was briefly engaged with Mr. Wuffles and dimly impressed with the dour and mediocre Amulet series. But Bone is the basement-level foundation for all her comics joys. And she wants to read through all nine black-and-white volumes with me again. She keeps suggesting, prodding. And who could resist, really. But I was concerned, needing something to follow Bone up—something with a bit of flash and depth that could keep up the adventure without slack. I don’t want her ever to imagine that Bone will always be the best she’ll find (even if, for a long time, it might be). I needed something that could at least go toe to toe with the giant. So it’s rather nice that The Lost Boy came along when it did.
My daughter prefers strong and memorable characters, which is why I haven’t tried Mouse Guard out on her just yet (the mice, for all their distinct little personalities, just don’t stand out enough from each other). She needs Phony Bones and Big Red Dragons and Bartlebys and Rock Jaws. I think she’ll find those in The Lost Boy. While the book’s two or three human protagonists exhibit a kind of character that may be too subtle for her to discern, she’s almost certain to be captivated by the fine-cutting figure of the Baron, a top-hatted cricket who rides atop a former-pet-dog steed. There are other animal amusements to be found as well—Pettibone the squirrel, Plikt the Owl, an army of dapper, well-dressed insects. Et cetera.
This is a tale of the woodland kingdoms creeping in to reassert command over the realm so long ago thefted by the avarice of men. It’s an old story, told over and again, one of the most common tropes of the fantasy genre, speaking to human guilt accrued from our sometimes violent domination of the natural realm. It would have been easy for Ruth to have produced something boring, just as ninety-nine percent of fantasy writers tackling the sub-genre have. But apparently, he’s too good for mediocrity.
She says that, but really, which one of them isriding command over a beast eight times their own size?
Really, and I mean it, this book is gorgeous and contains a story that is both a kind of lived-in-comfortable as well as sparkling with an intelligence and verve we don’t often see in books of this ilk.11The word “ilk” is only ever used pejoratively and I use it here to signal to the uninformed my general distaste for the fantasy narrative. It wasn’t always the case that distrust was the starting point from which I approached any work of fantasy. When I was younger, I devoured the genre, mining it for gems and turkish delights. It, of course, turned rotten in my mouth—like day-old manna. Since then, I’ve soured on the stuff and have no problem saying: I don’t like fantasy. Reserving the right, of course, to make exceptions for the Good Stuff. Lord of the Rings. Bone. Nausicaä. In any case, I don’t have a whole lot of respect for fantasy (because it doesn’t generally respect its readers) and so when I speak highly here of Ruth’s work, you can be certain that I really do think highly of it. To the art, we find in Ruth a masterful, confident creator whose ink-and-wash combination (whether digitally or traditionally achieved) is a visual wonder. In some ways, the work resembles the real-world segments of The Nao of Brown, only with greater detail and less left to the work of Dillon’s kind of sense for colour. While dynamic, Ruth’s illustrations are firmly grounded in a realism that lends the book a gravity that a more cartoony artist would have to compensate for by using other techniques (probably relying too heavily on the writing and dialogue). By proposing realistic crickets and owls and trees and humans, Ruth raises the stakes of his story, allowing us to more easily imagine its events occurring in some suburban neighbourhood within twenty miles of where we sit while reading his book.
Also, as a side note: I am deeply deeply envious of Greg Ruth’s abilities. If I were at all the type, I would very likely cry a little tonight after reflecting on the distance between my own talents and Ruth’s.22Instead, I will merely cross my fingers that my winning personality will help make up for my lack.
The way Ruth unfolds his story is well-conceived. He bounces between the present and the early ‘60s by means of several tapes worth of rediscovered vintage recordings—tapes that hold a peculiar mythos in the town. Like many such fantasy stories, our entry point is a newcomer, someone unfamiliar with lore and legend—someone through whose eyes we might become gently acquainted to the weirdness in store. Through Nate, the newcomer, we encounter an earlier newcomer, Walt, child of the ‘60s.33Ruth uses the trick of the tape recorder’s click to signal that we’re now beginning or concluding our reading in the era from fifty years back, but before we might notice that’s the overt narrative clue, we still get a sense of which era’s which through the use of fashion. Walt and his father have a very Wonder years vibe about them. Nate pretty clearly dresses in the contemporary fashion. Because of this carefulness, we’re never far from knowing where we are in the story’s flashes, backward or forward. We see that strange things have been afoot and boiling to a head for a long time, decades at the least. And because the rate of a newcomer’s apprehension of the world he’s entered might be a bit slow, we’re also given Tabitha, the townie who’s been on the trail for years and has a pretty stock of files on the case already. The combination of the three characters and their specialties allows Ruth to reveal tale, trials, and consequences at essentially the perfect rate.
All three of the principal child characters are written well and Ruth builds enough meat on their psychological bones that none of their decisions come out of left field or are even at all unpredictable. Even better, for any inadequacies Ruth has built into their characters, each of the three is likable enough that we can pretty easily empathize with their plights. I enjoyed watching them sound out their place in a world whose seams are unstitching at too quick a rate.
He found my hand
Though it’s not clear within The Lost Boy and the story comes to a satisfactory (though open-ended) conclusion, Ruth has planned this as a trilogy. Which is heart-warming, actually. That he’ll have the opportunity to expand his mythology and throw his characters into more trials and woes is fantastic news. I was looking for another Bone and while this really isn’t very much like Bone at all, it very much is a delightful fantasy adventure probably aimed at kids but best appreciated by those of us with true grit.
And we are chock full of that, man.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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