Leaf is an exquisitely drawn, if somewhat earnest, standalone graphic novel, set in a silent fairytale world. There are no words in this story, which is set in a noise-free world of shanty towns ruled over by evil industry.
It’s autumn, and as the leaves fall from the trees of a drab grey town, our hero discovers a peculiar leaf with a beautiful blue hue. Heading back through the labyrinthine streets, we meet a worker who seems to know more about the power of the city, and a woman who’s keen to know everything she can about all the different leaves. Their combined knowledge kick-starts a journey of discovery.
Stylistically Leaf brings to mind the silent films of the expressionist era: Nosferatu, Cabinet of Doctor Caligari or even Metropolis. Without words this world is almost claustrophobic, and pages of smaller panels reinforce this. Our un-named protagonist has to negotiate these environs – and it’s the discovery of the leaf that prompts him to look further.
Beyond the narrative, this book is brimming with social commentary, from a fear of technology to a journey from isolation in a crowded city, where lights and colours bring people together in the otherwise grey world. At every stage the story feels like it has something it needs to say.
Chinese artist Daishu Mu studied at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and currently lives in Barcelona. This is her first major international work. Other influences mentioned in the blurb on the back refer to Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, but to our mind, her cross-hatched pencil work art style owes a huge debt to Raymond Briggs.
The whole package is beautifully presented, with even the front cover featuring a hole cut-out in the shape of a leaf, revealing the title beneath. The artwork is generally very nice indeed – but overall this feels like a collection of elements purloined from sources and not all that original.