I wanted to read Pilu of the Woods from the second I saw the cover. It’s got a lovely, analog, earthiness to it. And the book as a whole did not disappoint – every inch of it is nothing short of gorgeous. And the story is so touching – especially if you have no idea what it’s about.
Willow loves the woods near her house. They’re calm and quiet, so different from her own turbulent emotions, which she keeps locked away. When her emotions get the better of her one day, she decides to run away into the woods. There, she meets Pilu, a lost tree spirit who can’t find her way back home—which turns out to be the magnolia grove Willow’s mom used to take her to. Willow offers to help Pilu, and the two quickly become friends.
But the journey is long, and Pilu isn’t sure she’s ready to return home yet—which infuriates Willow, who’s determined to make up for her own mistakes by getting Pilu back safely. As a storm rages and Willow’s emotions bubble to the surface, they suddenly take on a physical form, putting both girls in danger… and forcing Willow to confront her inner feelings once and for all.
I didn’t even read the blurb before reading the book. I knew I wanted to read it the second I saw the cover; I happened upon it while perusing the the Hoopla app (I highly recommend it if your library system offers it, there are soooooo many comics available).
This is one of those books that I had to own within reading the first few pages. It’s just so beautiful, from the lineart to the colors & textures. Her process is analog, brushed inks, coloring in Photoshop and overlaying a custom watercolor texture over every page.
There are also a couple of things that separate the craft of Pilu from other comics: 1) Ms. Nguyen is a designer, and quite a few pages take advantage of empty space for panelling goodness (there’s no assumption that pages should be filled with panels); 2) there’s some seriously good handlettering that’s often used for sound effects (and also used for the title font).
While the art in this book is good enough to stand on its own, the story really makes it. It’s touching and relatable, and the conceit with Willow’s emotions works well – and pays off story-wise.
But as much as I like the story, I can’t stop looking at the art (I’m glad the digital conversion that was made for Hoopla was good, some of them can be pixelated) as well as the craft. I’m going to try reading it with one of the kids tonight.
I also wanted to share this interview from the Comix Experience’s Kids Graphic Novel of the Month Club. It’s a great discussion in a comic shop, with an audience of kids. The kid questions are the best, I love hearing curiosity
Ms. Nguyen talks about her art process – and the process of submitting a pitch to Oni Press during their open submissions period. Her pitch includes: 10 completed pages, a 3-4 page outline (which she deviated from a LOT), a summary, and an elevator pitch. (If you want to know more, I’ve got a blog post all about graphic novel pitches).
An interesting craft tidbit: she didn’t write a script and went with rough thumbnail sketches instead. Since she did this for her editor, it feels like she might have skipped this step if she was not collaborating.
‘Pilu of the Woods’ is a beautiful & touching middle grade graphic novel that should be required reading for kids & anyone interested in the comic craft. Highly, highly, highly recommended.