A Girl in the Himalayas original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: David Jesus Vignolli
Editors: Cameron Chittock & Sierra Hahn
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $16.99 US
Promotional material released in advance of this book indicates this is writer/artist David Jesus Vignolli’s debut graphic novel, but I just can’t believe. This is a fully realized fable, and it’s a hauntingly beautiful and touching tale. The deceptively simple title of A Girl in the Himalayas is actually quite fitting, because while it doesn’t touch on the literal magic that imbues almost every panel of this graphic novel, it focuses the reader’s attention on the spiritual magic of innocence that represents the ultimate redemption of humanity. And yes, while there’s a larger plot that examines mankind’s penchant for self-destruction, the core strength of Vignolli’s story is how it examines the notion of family, no matter how unconventional the circumstances that brings it together.
An orphaned child is rescued from the fiery chaos of her village by an immortal guardian of a secret, untouched valley hidden in the Himalayas, and he brings her back there. Making a significant sacrifice to become the girl’s parent, the protector’s long recovery is nothing compared to his other task: convincing his friend and partner, another immortal, that saving the girl and exposing the magical, elemental creatures living in the hidden refuge to a human was the right course of action.
Fans of anime legend Hayao Miyazaki will delight with what they find in this book. Vignolli’s designs for the simple elemental creatures definitely boast an undeniable Miyazaki influence, and I found it especially apparent in the curative tentacles of the earth elementals. A Girl doesn’t boast a manga-inspired look, though, but wears its influences on its sleeve. There are a number of western influences at play here as well. I was often reminded of the style of Bryan Lee (Scott Pilgrim) O’Malley, notably when it comes to the design of the titular character, Vijaya, but Vasu’s look put me in mind of Mike (Hellboy) Mignola’s work. Vignolli’s art also evokes easy comparisons to the styles of such cartoonists as Andi (Slow News Day, Glitter) Watson and Kate (Hark, A Vagrant!) Beaton.
The opening scenes suggest this story will be, at least in part, about Vijaya’s developing relationship with her adoptive father, Prasad, but to my surprise, it’s really about the distance between her and Vasu, who disapproves of Prasad’s decision to bring the girl into their world. It’s a far more interesting dynamic; Prasad’s love is pure and lovely, but the reader can’t know where Vasu’s concern will lead. I love that Vignolli’s turns our focus to this relationship throughout the book, as it strengthens the storytelling significantly.
Vignolli introduces some members of the extended family, and the most fun of them is Dr. Algae, a sentient and highly intelligent single-cell organism, the size of a man, who ends up serving as Vijaya’s teacher. He brings a lighter tone to the plot, bolstering the girl’s innocence and acting as a counterbalance to Vasu’s dour intensity.
The story offers a magical explanation for humanity’s apparent willingness to destroy its environment and to engage in hatred, violence and war. The ultimate message here is the innocence of childhood is the answer to combating these blights. The pristine nature of the sanctuary and the magical influence of the elementals serve to combat those negative influences, but of note is that it’s Vijaya that unlocks those solutions. Prasad and Vasu are dedicated to keeping the sanctuary land hidden from the rest of the world to protect it, but it ends up that being revealed ends up protecting everyone. I suppose the resolution here was predictable, but I was so engrossed with the relationships among the residents of the sanctuary, the climax of the story came as something of a surprise.
A Girl in the Himalayas will appeal to fans of such Jeff Smith works as Bone and Tuki. There’s an enticing sense of reflection and maturity to this story about innocence saved and restored, but it’s also appropriate for readers of all ages. This is a stunning debut effort, and it should make anyone with an interest in sequential storytelling sit up and take notice of David Jesus Vignolli. 9/10