THROWBACK THURSDAY: REVIEWING A REISSUE
I am not particularly familiar with Avi, though I recognize his name as a prominent author in the YA/Children’s Book field. What I don’t know is whether this is a departure from his other writings, or if this is in line with the bulk of his cannon.
The story is a dark fantasy. Some sort of dark, supernatural beings, Kurbs, living deep beneath Manhattan island have loaned the island to humans. Every year, the humans must find and return a particular power source to the Kurbs, otherwise the city will be frozen and destroyed. It’s actually quite a fun story … dark and mysterious with the occasional bit of whimsy and flights of fantasy (literally) thrown in. This could very easily have been written as a novel, rather than as a graphic novel, and quite possibly it would have come across just a little bit better.
The art, by Brian Floca, is a very mixed bag. The black and white, pen-and-ink panel drawings are well suited to the dark fantasy nature of the story … most of the time. For the scenes with the blind man, Underton, and the Kurbs, and the occasional city-scape wide shot, the art is really beautiful and enhancing. But when the story is featuring the young boy Carlos, or the girl, Sarah, the artwork is weak. Very very often it appears to be a rough sketch, rather than a finished work of art. And Sarah and her mother look SO much alike (I get it… the resemblance is important!) that it was sometimes confusing who was in the panel.
The beginning of the story is packed with a great deal of set-up information and thus it is a fiction story, lavishly illustrated, and then becomes the graphic novel. This change in format was confusing at first.
Underton is trying to get ahold of the Kurbs’ power source, which appears as a normal New York City subway token. But the token holds magical powers that offer some potential for personal power, which is why Underton wants it so badly. Underton displays a bit of supernatural power himself (which I don’t recall being explained) and is a delightful (in a frightening way) ‘bad guy.’
The whimsical fantasy is a treat (Underton is carried away by a large flock of pigeons and Carlos and Sarah chase after him in a motor-less glider), but it comes a bit out of nowhere. A couple more fantasy scenes like this might have helped the arc of this otherwise very dark and disturbing story.
I liked a lot of what was here, but it never felt fully realized. The basic story was interesting, but got caught up in aspects of the minor storylines that weren’t as interesting. And the art never felt finished. It looks as if Avi and Brian Floca were trying to sell this story on ‘spec’; they threw it together in draft style, with the occasional strong piece of art to show how it could look, hoping to get the go-ahead to make a finished version. Only this became the finished version.
Looking for a good book? City of Light, City of Dark, a re-issued graphic novel by Avi and Brian Floca, shows the beginnings of a good story as a graphic novel, but neither story, nor art, are fleshed out well.
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City of Light, City of Dark
artist: Brian Floca
hardcover, 192 pages
The story itself is sweet but seems to be lacking meat. Why do the Kurbs have such a silly ritual of hide and seek yearly? Why doesn’t the seeker have more animosity than she does over having her baby stolen for 11 years just so she can do the silly Kurb ritual? As well, why did she fall in love with the sad sack assistant anyway? And could he really have remained hidden in Manhattan for 11 years? It just didn’t ring true for me – like someone putting pieces together of a puzzle but forgetting how to bind them together so they fall apart upon closer inspection. Emotion especially is greatly lacking.
City of light, City of Dark is by no means a terrible graphic novel. It is an enjoyable read with a nice story arc that somewhat reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But at the same time, it really felt like a missed opportunity to make something really special.