Polly and the Pirates trade paperback
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Ted Naifeh
Editors: James Lucas Jones & Joe Nozemack
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $11.95 US
One might assume that creator Ted Naifeh was just jumping on the Pirates of the Caribbean bandwagon when he came up with this all-ages read about adventure on the high seas. While the book boasts the same sense of fun and adventure as the movie franchise, there’s also an innocence and purity to these characters that sets it apart. Polly and the Pirates simply wreaks of entertainment and charm. There’s not a single character — from the title character herself to the lowliest villainous henchman — that doesn’t boast a strong degree of appeal. Naifeh’s designs for the Victorian Neverland in which the story is set are stunning and wondrous, and the wide-eyed characters are a delight to the eyes as well.
Polly-Anne Pringle is a proper young lady who lives at Mistress Lovejoy’s school dormitory whilst her diplomat father travels to deal with important matters of state. But when she’s spirited away in the middle of the night by a group of leaderless pirates, she’s informed that she’s the long lost daughter of Meg Malloy, the Pirate Queen. Polly refuses to believe such a tall tale, but she soon finds herself swept up in matters of treachery and treasure. She soon learns of a lost map that will lead to riches beyond imagining. But it’s not just Meg Malloy’s crew who are after it, but the dashing Pirate Prince, son of Meg’s longtime rival, the Pirate King.
I love Ted Naifeh’s soft depiction of Polly Pringle. Whereas just about every other character is made up of sharp, angular lines, Polly is an adorable Pillsbury Doughgirl (TM), all round, non-sexual curves. I also enjoyed how she gradually stands taller and taller as the story progresses. Confidence slowly fills her up. To be honest though, what really dazzled me in terms of the book’s visuals are the backdrops. The buildings, the ships… everything about the settings are absolutely mesmerizing. Given the Emperor’s presence, I guess we’re meant to see this place as San Francisco (or its fantasy-filled cousin), but it really boasts a surreal, impossible and magical quality. I was especially impressed with Naifeh’s depiction of the Navy flagship that tracks down the two pirate crews. The artist conveys its immense scale incredibly well. It’s imposing but still full of character and wonder.
The story requires the reader to accept that Polly blossoms into her pirate role with finesse and style for no apparent, logical reason. There are explanations, yes, but the only explanation that’s really necessary is this: because it’s fun. Dodging blades and planning escapes, it’s just a ride the reader is meant to enjoy.
Two supporting characters that really shine are Scrimshaw (Polly’s pirate tutor and biggest booster) and author Filbert R. Swoon, the unknowing accomplice to Polly’s plan to save the day and end Meg’s crew’s quest. I adore that Scrimshaw really only seems to curse right after he’s been scolded for it, and Swoon’s blissful ignorance, charming timidity and goofy luck are thoroughly entertaining and engaging.
Polly’s a fascinating character, and perhaps what’s most interesting about her is that she’s probably the most boring person in the first half of the book. Her classmates start out as precocious, curious, adventurous, not her. Polly’s indecision and straight-laced nature make her an unlikely heroine, but also one to whom the reader can relate. She evolves not as someone who discovers courage and her true calling, but as someone who surrenders to the moment and tries her best to learn the lessons she’s picked up in the past and while immersed in the impossible. 9/10