THE REASON FOR DRAGONS
Story: Chris Northrop
Artist: Jeff Stokely
Archaia Entertainment | graphic novel | $19.95
Review by Mike C. from BC Refugee Blog
There are tons of choices out there in graphic novels, fiction, audio books, movies and television shows waiting to be explored. I could fill several columns compiling a list, but I won’t. I’m just going to mention a current work that fits neatly into the category of “coming of age” novels. That would be A REASON FOR DRAGONS.
My reason for aiming the spotlight on this work is not just because it’s a well-written and appealing illustrated “coming of age” tale, but because it’s rich in symbolism and straddles the borderline between fantasy and reality, leaving the details up to the individual reader to determine. That vagueness makes it all the richer for more seasoned readers who have perhaps read plenty of these types of stories.
The main character, 16-year old Wendell, is not interested in developing any mechanical skills or even getting some good advice from his stepfather on how to handle the bullies from school that taunt and assault him. He’s lonely, and often isolates himself when others reach out to him. He’s most content when he’s reading, escaping into fantasy worlds whether it’s the classic novel Moby Dick or “Wonders & Warriors” guidebooks (role-playing fantasy similar to Dungeons & Dragons). Amidst the fantasy vehicles and posters that occupy all the open spaces in his bedroom is a lonely framed photograph of his deceased aviator father in a thumbs-up pose, perhaps meant to provide inspiration but too often causing him to feel sad and helpless.
In many stories like this, the stepfather ends up playing the role of villain or at the least the problem/conflict that the main character has to overcome. They are resented (also by the readers) because they’ve replaced a loving father, inherited a stepchild that they don’t care for, and often treat them with scorn and disrespect. On the surface Ted, Wendell’s stepfather, would seem to fit the mold. He’s big, muscular and macho, loves his beer and prefers to tinker in his garage with his prized motorcycle, affectionately dubbed “Lilly.” However, Ted is warm and compassionate, showing empathy for Wendell and a willingness to teach and guide him. That sets him apart from his peers in many of these type of tales, and helps to endear him to the reader. (He’s my second favorite character in A REASON FOR DRAGONS, right after Wendell). It’s not the stepfather here who rejects the stepchild, but the reverse of that.
The story begins during another moment of rejection by Wendell after Ted attempts to educate him on a simple oil change. Wendell turns down the offer, retreats to his bedroom but returns later after having second thoughts (perhaps inspired by that photo of his father). When he messes up the job and upsets his stepfather. Wendell flees to a neighborhood park where he can hide beneath a tree and bury his feelings in a book. His reading is interrupted by some school bullies. When Wendell actually tries to stand up for his rights, he allows himself to be baited into a challenge: sneak into the long abandoned (fire damaged) Renaissance fairgrounds and return with a pamphlet/map to demonstrate his bravery.
Wendell meets a former worker at King Henry’s Olde Faire, still dressed as a Medieval knight (or is this how Wendell sees him?) and working hard to protect the land from a troublesome dragon (again, a real creature or a creature of Wendell’s imagination?) . Yes, just in case you aren’t reminded a bit of the classic Don Quixote this knight (later identified as James McGee, missing since the fire) has a suitable handlebar moustache to go along with his outfit and a large lance as well. Of course, there is a large windmill as centerpiece of the old fairgrounds. Wendell bonds with the knight and joins him in an adventure to uncover, combat and defeat the dragon/troubles.
I won’t spoil it the story by revealing anymore details. It’s worth following because the ending is very satisfying. This is a tale that could easily be picked up by a middle-school teacher and used in an English class. Ironically, the final pages show Wendell back in school two months later where a teacher begins to recite a poem that “tells the tale of a mysterious red-cloaked knight, who appeared out of nowhere in a 14th century town in England. The knight told tales of his horse, Lilly, who was made of metal, and lost in an epic battle with a fire-breathing dragon.” Wonderful.
Needless to say, several life lessons are learned and applied by Wendell, who seems to have a richer, more fulfilling life as a result. He’s followed his heart, made some decisions, learned to accept who he is, now willing to accept the wisdom of others, and found the riches to be found in helping others to overcome their conflicts and discover their worth. You will be touched by this story.
Along with Northup’s marvelous story,the art of Stokely is simple yet rich, and perfect for this tale. Both story and art will remind readers of the works of Jeff Lemire, who is also extremely adept at depicting and reflecting country life and values.
A REASON FOR DRAGONS is rounded out by the inclusion of five short stories by various creators featuring the characters from the main story, concept and design sketches, and an equally warm and inspiring preface by co-creator Sean Murphy and afterword by Northrup and Stokely.
The presentation is bookshelf worthy as well. Archaia always does a fine job with their hardcover books that are among some of the most beautiful you can find at a local comics store.