Mae first stood out to me on the shelf because of its incredibly unique and expressive artwork. It was refreshing for me to see given that, recently, I have become bored with the dominant art styles showcased by DC and Marvel. Don’t get me wrong, I adore all the big publishers and superheroes (Batman being my favourite), but we’ve got to admit that both DC and Marvel have found their house-style and tend to follow this above trying new things. Sure, there’s differences between the work of different artists, but it’s hard to ignore that all the chosen artists have similar styles. This has made it a dull process for me to find something unique, art-wise, on the big-league publishers’ shelves.
Mae opts for simpler artwork which contrasts with the detailed art of DC and Marvel; and unlike many other graphic novels which I have seen, Gene Ha succeeds in creating interest in each panel despite not including the smallest, intricate, details. This is a difficult feat to pull off, but the author manages it in two key ways: 1) with beautifully drawn expressions which makes every emotion clear to decipher and interesting to view; as well as different perspective shots and exaggerated movements from the characters; and 2) with the very unique colouring style where extreme highlights and shadows are included where the author wants to draw our attention, while reducing the contrast between lights and darks on the other parts. Both of these combined results in a most interesting art style which I have not come across before now.
Unfortunately, where this graphic novel falls short is in the story itself. I’m very sorry to have to say this about a book which, from the information given on the last few pages, was crowdfunded, because I do like to support indie publishers and authors. However, honesty requires me to give my opinion, however brutal.
The story begins with Mae listening to her parents talking to the police about Abbie, Mae’s sister, going missing again. While Mae is anxiously awaiting news on Abbie’s whereabouts, she enters her sister’s room and begins searching for, what appears to be, clues on where her sister could be. While checking under the bed, she happens to stumble across a loose floor board, hidden under which is a box filled with some strange looking trinkets and … a bug. Abbie comes home and Mae frantically returns the box to its place. She leaves the room, not realising that the bug is still on the floor of the room … calling out to Abbie. I think that’s a really good introduction to the magical world which Annie frequents and was looking forward to finding out more about her stories along the way and especially as to why there is a live bug kept in a box in her room. I seriously thought this was going to become a bug side-kick or something, but nope, we are never to hear about this poor bug again. Instead, it’s clear that the author simply wanted to highlight that Abbie goes missing often, during which she would visit the magical world.
After this interesting intro, things went downhill pretty fast. Cue a fast forward to the present day where Mae is now attending college and meets up with a friend. Abbie is again missing. What follows is the dullest conversation I have ever read in a graphic novel and it isn’t the final one. I’m not going to go into detail about the conversations, but suffice it to say that they are quite cringeworthy at times; the spoken humour is not done well; and Abbie likes the big talk which I suppose is meant to make her look cool, but ultimately just comes off like she’s trying too hard (or, I should say, the author’s trying too hard). Here’s the thing about badass characters … they tend to say quite cool things which makes a lot of us feel like we wish we could be awesome like them. With Abbie’s big talk, however, it just feels quite … sad … as in pathetic … as in I’m glad I don’t talk like that. I never quite gelled with this character and I think it’s because she doesn’t have much dimension. It’s always – I want to fight, fight, fight – and that gets boring quickly.
The plot of this book, at its simplest, is that Mae and Abbie need to find their father who has been kidnapped and taken to the magical world. Nice plot … too bad half the time I couldn’t remember that this is what their aim is, because the graphic novel seems to jump between what it wants to be. On the one hand, it’s obviously an action graphic novel, but the fights just seem so random – too random – and instead of furthering the story, it just throws the flow off and makes the main goal of finding their father forgettable. Then you have the fantasy side of the graphic novel which is shoved down your throat with so much passion that I’d be surprised if it didn’t start leaking through the derriere. Instead of focussing on the plot of the story, the author focusses so much on spelling out the magicalness and amazingness of the world that the sisters are in that it steers the reader away from the plot. Then the graphic novel seems to want to try its hand at detective problem solving, which is to be expected really, except that the search for their father relies on Abbie’s specialist knowledge of the magical world and its inhabitants. Why is this a problem ? Because the author’s incessant need to highlight the magicalness of the world results in Abbie using so many – so many – terms unique to that world that it made it hard to remember and therefore keep up with the story. Add to this the jumbled pacing and you have a mess of a book.
I’m so very disappointed, because the concept of this graphic novel had potential to become a great read. Instead, the book put so much effort into sounding fantastical and adding in fight scenes where it didn’t seem to further the plot, and adding in conversations that make no sense in the situations, that it veered off track and made the main plot forgettable during about 80% of the book. I’d say a story where the main plot is hardly memorable is a tad on the failure side.
People … this graphic novel took me more than four days to complete. For a book this size, it shouldn’t have taken more than a few hours. … I think that says it all.