By Edie OP
Maleficium is a staggeringly good début graphic novel from EdieOP, full of childish fantasy, delightful escapism and more than a hint of very cleverly done doubt… childish invention or genuine magic? … sure, you think you know the reason, but there’s that delicious sliver of ambiguity, somewhat in the grand tradition of Calvin & Hobbes.
Oh, before we go any further…
Maleficium: “A term used to describe malevolent or dangerous magic intended to harm or cause death to a person or thing.”
Ok, that over with, here’s the deal: Huxley Leighton Lomax is an aspiring wizard who finds himself surrounded by dark forces. How will he cope, does he have enough magic to save the day?
Thing is, this is Huxley; he really doesn’t look that much of a wizard, does he?
Huxley is a child, with an annoying little sister, Adelaide, a nameless dad, and his favourite pet stuffed dragon/salamander/whatever it is. He may wear the cloak of a wizard, but no-one really believes him. Certainly not after he throws a tantrum when Dad tells him it’s bath-time, our not so mature wizard claiming he doesn’t need one because…
“I’VE CAST A CLEAN SPELL, SO THERE!”
The capitals and the ‘so there!‘ are very necessary. The whole book is full of these touches, the tone of a child so right and genuine all through. It also gets Dad just right as well, the complex mix of debilitating tiredness, irritability and profound parental love familiar to all parents. Which is why dad ends up looking on, a mix of tired, angry and happy when Huxley, in the bath with Adelaide, soaped up and annoyed declares;
“I’ve decided I’m only going to use my magic for good. And I’m going to protect you and Adelaide, because she’s small and stupid and you’re old”
Ouch. The joys of parenting are many, but sometimes you have to really look for them.
Once the lights are out things change, baby Huxley turns into protecting wizard Huxley armed with his trusty wand of light to vanquish the shadow-monster that’s come creeping around his bed, threatening his sister, causing trouble…
Although when Dad comes in to investigate the noise it’s Huxley who gets told off. Not fair.
Brave wizard Huxley is also smart wizard Huxley, figuring out the shadow-monster is only really acting up right now because it’s hungry. Which is why there are cornflakes and milk spilt all over the kitchen table in the morning.
Although when Dad finds them it’s Huxley who gets told off. Again. Not fair. Again. It’s a hard life being a boy wizard.
Things get worse, the shadow-monster keeps coming back, causing trouble, hungry or not, with the situations getting more complex, Huxley’s poor dad getting more and more wound up as mysterious things keep happening through the house, getting more and more injured as the shadow monster manipulates things…
See. I love that, such surface simplicity but EdieOP’s work really requires us readers to do a couple of things at once… You’re following the monster, watching that shadowy hand move, fearing for dad, whilst at exactly the same time, you’re chuckling with the whole ‘Melissa’s Forces‘ thing. See, they would be the ‘malicious forces‘ mentioned in the book on the Paranormal from Dad’s bookshelf that Huxley was reading. And it’s those ‘Melissas‘ who cause all the trouble, unscrewing the lightbulbs to cause blackouts, stealing the box of cornflakes in the night and scattering cornflake-y crumbs all over the bedroom, tripping Dad up on the stairs, that sort of thing.
Edie OP’s art merely adds to that sense of more going on, there’s a very innocent look to it, cuteness accentuated by her slightly sketchy, very loose line style, and it’s in direct contrast to some of the darker stuff going on. It has the look of a children’s book, and it is, but it’s a children’s book in a classical sense. This is a children’s book that isn’t afraid to try to terrify the reader. The cute art rather lulls you into a false sense of security, before you know it the darkness is swirling all around.
My favourite bit of dark has to be where there’s an extended sequence of Huxley exploring the dark under a tablecloth really reminiscent of Gaiman’s Coraline, good and dark and inventive. Page after page we follow Huxley through the dark and out into somewhere else, an alternate house, decrepit, dark, empty, full of dark corners, terrifying stuff for a child, terrifying stuff from a child’s view. Imagination really going into scary overdrive, the sort of thing adults never seem to get, never really remember from their own childhood, dad merely blaming Huxley’s hysterical tears on finally getting out from under the table on banging his head again.
There’s such a delightful innocence about Maleficium on the surface, both in concept and execution, but on top of that there’s a wonderful double story going on, depending on just how you care to think of it. Either we’re joining in with little Huxley and seeing his imagination at play or the shadows in the walls, the ‘Melissas‘, are real and Huxley’s a wizard and a brave hero to boot (in which case, Dad owning a book on the Paranormal takes on a whole different meaning).
It’s that aspect of it, the possibility that there’s much more going on here than you might initially think that really raises this one up. Without that, this would be a very pretty, pretty funny tale of a young boy who likes to play wizards. But with that little bit of doubt thrown in it becomes something rather excellent.