Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli, Creatures of the Night (Dark Horse Press, 2004)

This slim hardback graphic novel contains two short stories by Neil Gaiman, both illustrated by a frequent collaborator of his, Michael Zulli. Previously released in plain text form in Smoke and Mirrors, "The Price" and "The Daughter of Owls" have been reworked by Gaiman for their debut here in comic form. The front cover illustration combines art from each story (a barn owl and a calico cat) with a seemingly unrelated, but gorgeous, image of a woman's profile against a full moon.

Inside, "The Price" covers the first twenty-four pages of the volume. "The Price" is one of my absolute favourite stories of Gaiman's, and finding it illustrated was an utter delight. It starts simply enough, with various illustrations of the various cats to have cohabitated with the narrator's family (the narrator seems to be very loosely based on Gaiman himself, to judge from the art). And then a very particular tomcat decides to stay with the family, a sturdy, ebon panther-like tom who arrives healthy . . . yet seems to be taking quite the beating each evening. It would spoil the story to say why Black Cat fights -- or what he fights -- but suffice it to say the family is indeed most fortunate to have such a feline guest at their home.

"The Daughter of Owls" fills out the remaining twenty pages of the book, making use of a framing device (someone writing down the narrator's words) to tell the tale of an infant girl left -- with an owl's pellet clutched in her wee hand -- on the steps of a village church. The women of the village decide the girl was not born of woman, and so should not be suffered to live. However, "wiser heads and greybeards prevailed" and the child is sent to live out her life in a convent. And so she grows to her teens behind the convent walls, knowing only of women, and nothing of the ways of men. Word of her beauty -- and her inability to talk -- spreads beyond the convent walls, though. And when the nun who raised her passes away, the men of her birth village decide to pay the girl a visit, with ill intent in mind. The results of their evil-doing are in no small way disturbing, and decidedly cautionary.

Zulli's art is a perfect complement to Gaiman's dark, hazy tales of creatures who may be more than they seem. I'm especially fond of the parade of cats that opens "The Price" (the kitty about to experience neutering has a particularly amusing expression), and the progression of Black Cat from a fierce, feral cat to battered, yet still defiant, tom. If you're at all fond of Gaiman's prose, Zulli's art, or their earlier collaborations, Creatures of the Night is an exquisite addition to your bookshelves.

[April Gutierrez]