Craig Thompson’s latest graphic novel couldn’t be further removed in setting from his last book, Habibi, and the tone is also intensely different. This is a sci-fi adventure, set in deep space, where nomadic humanity is clinging on to the edge of existence. Their lives are threatened by but also dependent on enormous whales that eat everything in their path (including entire planets and their inhabitants), then defecate energy-rich faeces that the humans use to power their space craft.
In amongst this wild new frontier, Thompson focuses in on Violet, the only daughter of Gar and Cera. Gar is a blue collar harvester of whale dung and Cera is a talented but hitherto undiscovered designer. When Gar goes missing whilst on a dangerous freelance dung-collecting mission, Violet takes it upon herself to find him, and most of the rest of the story revolves around these adventures.
It’s essentially a kids’ book, so there’s few surprises in the plot beyond a little mild peril. What’s more impressive is the coherency and depth of Thompson’s vision of the future. It comes with a fully developed class system, where the haves and have-nots lead very different lives. Everything belonging to the upper class is new and spangly, while the lower class’s equipment is tired and worn. The designs of the spacecraft are just wonderful: exquisitely detailed and beautifully realised.
The characters are archetypes, though they need to be to hit their target audience. Violet is lovely; a spirited, strong, independent young girl who’ll stop at nothing to get her Daddy back, and who inspires the two sidekicks she picks up along the way to do great things of their own. A classic role-model for an adventurous kid and all the better for it.
I’ve yet to test it out on any children but my guess is that it would appeal greatly to readers of kids comics, who should appreciate the opportunity to get their teeth into a longer story. There’s a nine-year-old who already has his eyes on my copy, so I may update this when I know whether it’s captured his imagination like it caught mine. I’m just a little jealous that they’ve got their own Craig Thompson book, perfectly pitched at their age group and sensibilities, when I personally wish he’d produced another book for adults as amazing as Habibi.