Knight & Dragon
Matt Gibbs, Bevis Musson, Nathan Ashworth
Knight & Dragon is new from Improper Books, who previously brought us the highly acclaimed Porcelain. It will be on limited release alongside the far more adult Butterfly Gate at Thought Bubble, with a more extensive release in 2014. It’s a fun ‘choose your own adventure’ thing that should appeal to a load of younger readers.
Now, anything with the multi-path thing instantly reminds me of Livingstone and Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy series, so I was all rose tinted specs nostalgic over this. But even when forcibly removing the rose specs, it does deliver a good, fun read, albeit with flaws.
It’s sadly not as interesting or involving as Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, which was both original and expansive, and as such delivered a really satisfying reading experience. Despite this, Knight & Dragon is entertaining enough and should certainly go down a storm with the children at school.
The whole thing, except the lovely introductory page below, is done in perfect pictograph form, the characters speaking and thinking in simple pictures rather than words. It’s a really well worked use of the comic medium, everything very simple yet loads of meaning communicated.
Knight & Dragon takes a traditional George and the Dragon sort of tale and turns it on its head a few times; the knight old and tired and really wanting to find the nearest inn and have a good meal before collapsing into bed, the maiden has very strong ideas of exactly who she should and shouldn’t be marrying, and the dragon all typically huge and ferocious but with a few surprises nonetheless. You get the idea.
Each of the six tales starts exactly the same; the knackered knight rides into the village, and is immediately assumed to be a mighty warrior by the villagers. Glimpsing the maiden, all thoughts of a meal and a comfortable bed go out of his head, and before he knows it, he’s only gone and agreed to do a bit of dragon vanquishing. In return, the village chief promises the maiden’s hand in marriage for a successful vanquishing, despite the maiden’s protests.
That page gives you a good idea of the style and the tone of Knight & Dragon, the wonderful body language captured so well by Musson of a fair maiden sick and tired of being a fair maiden, of a village leader desperate for change, and of the wonderful use of the pictographs to express ideas.
From this point the six stories start to diverge and you get to choose to follow the Knight, the Dragon, the Maiden, the pretty-boy Farmhand, the Village Chief, and even the horse…..
Yes, the horse. Love the horse. So much comedy potential with the horse, obsessed with getting a regular supply of carrots, playing the intelligent cat to the knight’s stupid Hong Kong Phooey…
It’s all in the look from the horse to the knight, a look we see repeatedly,”carrot? no, well in that case you’re on your own matey“. All that in one look.
And that sort of visual language happens all the way through Knight & dragon, so many pages have a gag that made me smile. The maiden’s pages are particularly full of this sort of visual gag. For example, when the village elder decides the only way of placating the dragon is to offer a sacrifice of the maiden….
“I’m doing this to save my beautiful house fair maiden.”
“Well in that case, why don’t you get up here on the stake eh?”
In addition to all this clever comedy in the story, the art by Bevis Musson is just delightful. Light, bright, fun cartoony art that really pops off the page, but like all wonderfully simple artwork, there’s a great deal of clever work underneath, anatomy exaggerated but perfectly done, everything working beautifully. And the characters are great, the knackered old knight just fed up and ticked off with the world, the maiden gutsy and absolutely fed up with being ‘just’ the maiden once more, the village chief a model of cowardly authority… and the horse… well, the horse just wants his damn carrots thanks very much.
Yep, screw you Mr. Knight, give me the damn carrots.
The actual mechanics of the choose your path work well, just a case of following the colour path for each character, clicking on the relevant colour at the foot of the page moves you seamlessly through the story in the digital version whilst there’s the chance to go old school and do the page moving yourself in the print version.
But although Knight & Dragon is loads of fun, with great art from Musson, repeated readings of it just confirm what I initially feared; it may be good fun, but it’s somewhat lightweight, and could have been so much more.
Like I said at the start, it pales when comparing it to something like Meanwhile, as it’s just too condensed and short. A mere 28-pages doesn’t really leave all that much room to tell a story, especially when Musson fills his pages with lots of big (and admittedly lovely) panels. Granted the six threads here all intertwine and share many pages to make each tale pretty fulfilling, but I couldn’t help feeling the whole thing needed to be quite a bit longer to really make the book work well.
The reliance on some generic pages in each storyline meant this felt constrained and really a missed opportunity. The pages all seem to focus on the main three protagonists; the Knight, the Maiden, and the Dragon, and the three minor tales all rely very much on the story ages from the main trio too much, it’s somewhat frustrating to find yourself actually not following the horse or the village chief or the farm-hand, but instead you’re merely checking in on the action happening with the main trio, when what would have really elevated this to something brilliant would be to have each tale taken as a distinct point of view piece. I’d have loved to have read the horse’s tale from the horse’s viewpoint, instead I get a couple of carrot gags and then essentially it’s the knight’s tale repeated. More pages would possibly have given Gibbs the option to expand his story.
Despite this problem, I fully expect the print version of Knight & Dragon to really prove popular with the kids in the school library; a great little story (stories) with some fab art and funny characters – that will always work.