James A. Owen, Starchild: Awakenings
One of the recurring themes in mythic literature is the presence of the mythic all around us. Authors such as Charles de Lint and Emma Bull have written wonderful novels about the intersection of the fantastic and the mundane. Neil Gaiman has also made a career writing of the fantastic in the everyday. One work that's been overlooked, however, is James Owen's Starchild. Originally a comic series, it has been reprinted in graphic novel, trade paperback format. With Coppervale press making a bit of a stir with its current re-vamping of Argosy, it is my hope that Starchild will get some more attention.
The story revolves around the small village of Raveloe and its inhabitants, specifically the Higgins family, whose patriarch, Ezekiel Higgins, disappeared for many years, only to return without fanfare, never having aged a day. The graphic novel Awakenings tells the story of the Higginses a few generations down the line; however. Ezekiel's grandson, Anders, and his friend, Siegfried, are on their way to Raveloe to meet up with Anders' uncle, Matthew Higgins, Anders's uncle, who has gone to Raveloe to unravel some of the family's secrets. After his return, Ezekiel Higgins lived the life of a recluse and then disappeared again, leaving behind a journal that Matthew, his son, has been trying to glean secrets from. Unknown to Matthew, however, his half-brothers, Rumer and Rhysling Learmont, have been living in the mill that Ezekiel lived in, hiding some of the family secrets. If this sounds complex, it is only the merest scratching of the surface of a story that, when all is told, will involve nearly every American folkloric character, as well as some traditionally British ones, including Titania, Oberon, Thomas the Rhymer, and the Wild Hunt.
More than most other forays into the format, Starchild is indeed a graphic novel, being a mix of traditional prose and comic art. The story was originally told in the first 12 issues of the Starchild comic, published over the course of a few years (in the midst of which Owen ruined his drawing hand in a car accident and then forced himself through rehabilitation in order to continue the series). The art is at first a bit stiff, but Owen quickly finds himself and his style such that by story's end, the art is comfortably at home with itself and its environs. Likewise, the prose can be stiff or turgid, but by the end, the pretensions are gone and the story soars to mythic levels.
Indeed, in the end, more than anything else, this is an epically mythical story of love and identity. What are we and what are the stories that make us who we are? If this wonderful mythical story were not enough, Owen drives the point home even more with two recurring comical characters. The first is 'Little Neil' who looks and talks an awful lot like a certain British author who, like Owen, started his career writing graphic novels. The other is Serbius, a cross between Wolverine (of X-Men fame) and the aardvark Cerebus. Both characters frequent the inn and tavern in Raveloe and, comic though they be, point to the transcendent nature of story and the ways story can be epic and still apply to the everyman.
Even though it is flawed in ways (for example, the story is too convoluted at the beginning and takes too long to straighten itself out), Starchild is still an incredibly powerful and mythical story. In many ways, it makes a wonderful primer for how mythical story is the most powerful type of story, reaching to the core of who we are.
[Matthew Scott Winslow]