Three Shadows


Three figures on horseback loom on the hill. Three shadows beside a tree, waiting and wanting and watching. In Three Shadows, French cartoonist Cyril Pedrosa paints an ominous picture of reapers come to collect. But it’s maybe the liveliest book I’ve seen all year.

Three Shadows is a black and white OGN from First Second Press. I’m not sure if it’s achieved a great deal of notoriety, but it bugs me that that’s even in question. I stumbled on Three Shadows during one of those rabbit hole chases through Amazon. Find a book you like, browse the recommendations and bore your way through the catalogs until something new catches your eye. It’s fishing for a fish you’ve yet to meet. But this book, this book is the stuff of one-eyed, two hundred pound catfish legend. This is trophy comics.

Three Shadows is a fable, a story about familial love and how death encroaches on the borders of that happiness, that sanctuary. A man and his wife and son live in pure bucolic harmony in their country cottage until three strangers appear on the hill beyond. It is soon apparent that these wraiths have come to take the child, but the boy’s father is unwilling to submit. They flee from their home and their fate. Before reading the book, I assumed that a pitch like that could possibly ruin the experience. But Pedrosa had plenty of surprises in the waiting. There’s more going on here. This is a sweeping adventure with several fantastical elements and it certainly transcends the simple parable. I don’t want to dole out too much of the story, so let’s focus on the spectacular imagery.  

Pedrosa, a former animator for Disney (he worked on several feature films, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules), does something astonishing with comics. These panels move. The word dynamic is overused in this medium, but it’s apt for Pedrosa’s style. Scan from panel to panel, and you’ll sense the suggestion of movement. Hair, fabric, expression; every element is rendered in such a way that readers can fully imagine the moments before and after those frames. More than a storyboard, this felt like a flipbook. The artist maintains this fluidity through a keen understanding of line and form. There is real purpose in the weight of his lines—thin for grace and detail, thicker for atmospheric heaviness and power. Most forms are curved and any hard edges or corners are intentional hard stops. As you can tell, the science behind this uniquely dynamic style has me all hot and bothered. But if you pick up Three Shadows and really look at Pedrosa’s truly economical gestures, you’ll see just how effective a simple curved line can be in bringing an image to life. 

Two dimensional images that move. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

Like I Kill Giants, this is one of the books you want to pass around. Again, too beautiful to abandon to a dusty shelf. We often single out books with a compelling script and consider the imagery a bonus. Three Shadows is my new benchmark for cartooning (in this case, illustration that is just as vital to the narrative as the words themselves). There are cases where the images in a book are serviceable or even exceptional on a page-by-page basis. What I want to stress here is that Pedrosa’s accomplished something consistently amazing through the entire real-estate of these pages. Nothing is phoned in, and he keeps introducing new visual elements and techniques as the story progresses, all of which feel appropriate to the tone of the narrative. There are stronger stories out there, but this particular story is presented flawlessly. This was key to my experience with this book. As I read Three Shadows I didn’t think about other books that might be similar. I was fully engrossed in this one. Maybe that’s how we ought to look at books, hard as it might be to achieve that perspective. Not as a point of contrast or a new alternative, but as the story presented. This one felt complete to me. This one felt right.  

Now go find it.  

          

  


Paul Montgomery aint afraid of no reapers. Find him on Twitter or at paul@ifanboy.com


Comments

  1. I’d heard of this before, I forget where, but this review has really sold me.  THere seems to be something really effortless about that linework, and the whole thing sounds intriguing.  First Second are developing into a really interesting publishing house right now, I picked up their rather large new OGN "The Photographer" yesterday and can’t wait to find the time to tuck into it.

  2. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    The Photographer is definitely on my radar. 

  3. I just read this book last week.  Marvelous piece of work.  If you have a child your heart will be heavy.

     

    the  Tiki

  4. My retailer suggested this to me several months back (knowing that I’m a father), I read it in a day or two, and I’ve been spouting off about it ever since. Great review, Paul. And I’m soooo glad you put up the scans you did. The artwork seems deceptively cartoony at first (see the first scan), but you’re absolutely right — the lines are rich and expressive and alive on the page. It’s a stunning bit of craft. Story and illustration are perfectly, seamlessly interwoven here.

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @Dave – Yeah, at first you get a little bit of Windwaker Zelda mixed with Emperor’s New Groove, but that’s just one of the many faces of this book. Dig in there and I think we’re looking at a Japanese woodcut influence (particularly in that big battle scene). The image of Louis curled up in the snow almost reminds me of Klimt’s The Kiss, but that’s just the composition. It’s also one of the few images modeled for texture. I didn’t even include the gesture drawings where it looks like they’re either charcoal sketches or conte crayon. Those are great too. 

  6. This looks awesome, actually. Let me add this to my ever expanding list. Great review, Paul. 

  7. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    Our library’s copy of this book vanished off the shelves last September.  That usually means it’s either really good or a tween saw some nudity in it.  I’m guessing the former, from your description.  Looks like I’m going to put in a request to reorder it.

    Thanks for the suggestion, Paul!  I love finding new stuff like this.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @JeffR – Truth be told, there is some harmless nudity in the book, both male and female. 

  9. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    It’s true that the two reasons aren’t mutually exclusive.

    By the way, the figures in that first scan from the book reminds me of Craig Thompson’s art style.  A bit like "Goodbye, Chunky Rice."  Those later scans though… man, those look like something else.  I’m really looking forward to reading this.

  10. Great review.  This book sounds amazing and I will definitely be picking this one up.  Thanks for bringing this one to my attention.

  11. Not for something specific…but the work reminds me of that book "Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now" by Andre Jordan

  12. one of my storegoers told me about this. it looks amazing

  13. I was fixin to order this the other day. I’ve been meaning buy it for a while now.

  14. Paul, thank you so much for recommending this.  My library’s copy miraculously appeared and I quickly snatched it up.  This thing is beautiful.  The scene of Louis running from the shadows in the woods is so kinetic and frantic that it blew me away.  The way Pedosa chose to bowl out the landscape during this scene really helped add to the sense of speed.  Fantastic.  Also, Pedosa’s style of sometimes making the drawings be more like sketches than finished inks really worked.  You can see her animation background in just about every page.

    I loved this book.

  15. I know I’m a bit late to this thread, but anyway, I wanted to chime in.

    I got this book last year for Christmas, just as I was about to really get into comics. As a German comics certainly were part of my childhood, but never after that (I only read Disney comics btw, super hero comics aren’t all that popular with kids (and esp. with parents) over here). Reading about this book on BoingBoing and knowing that I really want to start reading comics (Y: The Last Man pushed me over the edge whan I read the first issue online), I just blindly chose a few books and those were Laika and Three Shadows (both from First Second).

    Long story short: This book made me realize how great a medium comics are. Yes, Y: The Last Man has a great story and really good art, but it’s not even close to the beauty of Three Shadows. It’s completely different actually and so Three Shadows showed me how much more comics can be and that made me incredibly excited about the medium and has basically fueled my enthusiasm for it ever since.

    Now, one thing that I have loved about my copy is the production quality, thick paper, a wonderful cover and just generally a great look and feel of the book. What I really love are the "torn" pages, meaning that the right edge of most pages doesn’t look clean cut, but torn off (in a straight line, but still with fuzzy edges). However I’ve never encountered anyone else mentioning that, is my copy actually a production error? This was one of the parts I absolutely loved about this book, it made it feel somewhat hand-made and raw, which fits the atmosphere of the story and especially the charcoal sketches perfectly.