Hilda and the Stone Forest by Luke Pearson. Flying Eye Books, 2016. 9781909263741.
I’ve been a fan of Pearson’s graphic novels since picking up a copy of the creepy Everything We Miss and the original Hildafolk at TCAF years ago. And since reading Soppy, a Love Story, his girlfriend Philipa Rice’s book about their romance, I supposed I’m a fan of Pearson, too.
Blue-haired Hilda lives in Trolberg and has adventures with her doglike pet, Twig, despite the watchful, worried eye of her mother. (Initially she saves some little people when their house is carried off by a bit of ground that suddenly sprouted four legs and went running across town and into the mountains. Hilda’s excuse to her mother: she was at her friend David’s house, and after watching a video they played in the garden.) Hilda has adventures everywhere — in dank caves, on haunted ships, on stormy seas, in haunted libraries, in the sky — but after her mother catches her sneaking out she’s grounded. When her magical friend/housemate Tontu (think Captain Caveman with a bigger nose and no club) tries to take Hilda into a crack in her bedroom wall, her mother catches her, and the tug of war between her mother and Tontu throws Hilda and her mother into a weird, dark forest full of trolls. Can they survive and find their way home? Are there nice trolls who want to help?
The story always flows. It’s the next book I’d give a kid after Mark Crilley’s Akiko comics, and it’s right up there with Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series for excellence. The colors are marvelous and eye-catching. But as an adult, the thing I most admire is Pearson’s layouts. The size of his panels and the number varies from page to page, but always in service of the story. Most of the time the layout is invisible, but then I realize the craft that went into how he’s been directing my eye and making me hold moments and I’m in awe.