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Snapdragon

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh is a deftly-written, well crafted comic that is a must-read for young adults and fans of magical realism. I found it through a colleague who was gushing about Leyh’s use of word balloons and I ended up geeking out about them too, along with the panelling and pacing.

Snap’s town had a witch.

At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a crocs-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online—after doing a little ritual to put their spirits to rest. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.

They make a deal: Jacks will teach Snap how to take care of the baby opossums that Snap rescued, and Snap will help Jacks with her work. But as Snap starts to get to know Jacks, she realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic—and a connection with Snap’s family’s past.

That’s a great blurb – a nice overview of the story without giving a lot away, and some tasty morsels to rouse curiosity. But I didn’t read it before reading the book – I just looked at the cover, liked the art and dug in.

I was somewhat familiar with Kat Leyh – I’ve read a fair bit of Lumberjanes and that’s why her name rang a bell. But this was the first graphic novel of hers that I’ve read; there appear to be some collected webcomics available from Yeti Press, and a new graphic novel just out called Thirsty Mermaids.

I really enjoyed the story and not being that familiar with magical realism, I actually wondered whether there was going to be any magic at all. Having just watched the recut of the Justice League, I’m comparing every story with to determine why it sucks so much. Snapdragon illustrates this by having real characters with struggles we can relate to. Kat’s a loner and and makes friends with a seeming jock who changes as their relationship and trust grows.

2 of the first pages

Kat’s mom is supportive and present – when she’s not working or at school (one more semester and she’ll have a degree, a better job, and more time). Kat’s got a lovely 3 legged dog, courtesy of mom’s ex. And her extended family is nearby too.

The relationships all have depth and nuance. It’s hard to read and not feel along with them – the ups, the downs, the curiosities and disappointments. The story is deftly written, which makes sense as Kat has been the co-writer of Lumberjanes for most of the run – those stories are consistently tight with deep emotions and relationships.

Things change when Kat rescues her dog from the town ‘witch,’ who turns out to be something very different. People think she eats roadkill but it in reality she gathers roadkill and harvests the bones to sell online (which, to be honest, is a pretty smart idea). She becomes a mentor to Kat, who discovers new interests as their relationship deepens.

I can’t say much more about the story without giving too much away; suffice to say, it’s a page turner that’s worth reading.

Pages 8 & 9
Look at the paneling – lots of angles, no grid in sight, and it just leads the eyes *swoon*

What I can wax about is the craft, which is outstanding. Every time I read a comic, I’m paying attention to the craft as much as the story. Sometimes the story is compelling and the craft is terrible (like the Jack Kirby bio graphic novel – it’s craft is … non-existent). Sometimes the craft is fantastic but the story isn’t all that (I can’t think of anything, usually with books like that I just forget about them and end up following the artist on Instagram).

My colleague was spot on about the creative use of word balloons – I loved it! Sometimes she uses the balloons to emphasize rhythm, like when a kid asks a zillion questions one after the other. Sometimes the balloon tails extend off panel to link a character who’s just out of view. Sometimes balloons and panels throughout a page as a conversation ebbs & flows. I’m going to remember the way Kat used them (and maybe read some more Lumberjanes) because it really helped the flow of the story.

The other crafty aspect I loved was the panelling. Kat does not have a grid that she sticks to – every page is different. Many of her panels have angles, some have no border, and every choice serves a purpose, with clarity first and foremost. At no point did I have to wonder what panel to read next; despite her creativity, the narrative was easy to follow.

I’m recommending this book to my kids, and will need to get a copy for my bookshelf so I can refresh my memories of how well the word balloons and panels are used. If you like magical realism, I think you’ll like this book a LOT.

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I write about life as a creative, life as an adult with ADHD, good reads, and bad jokes. Plus: comics.

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I write about life as a creative, life as an adult with ADHD, good reads, and bad jokes. Plus: comics.

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