by Andy Wolverton
At the beginning of Beautiful Scars, we’re asked, “Why are stories so important?” We could all come up with our own answers, but perhaps the best explanation is given in the book’s second panel: “…if stories are truly memorable, we can’t help but hold onto them. Cherish them. Share them.” And sometimes taking ownership of our own stories costs us something.
That cost is something Maddie, the book’s protagonist, learns firsthand. As Beautiful Scars opens, an adult Maddie is excited upon the release of her first children’s book. On her way to present a copy to her grandfather, she reflects on her childhood, a time when she could not stop drawing, writing and thinking about stories. When young Maddie first meets her grandfather Ridley, she falls, scraping her knee in an attempt to run away from him. Maddie is concerned that the scrape on her knee will leave an ugly scar, but her grandfather tells her that he has a beautiful scar on his knee and proceeds to tell her the story of how he got it as a boy. As her grandfather, Ridley, tells his story, young Maddie borrows elements of his tale and begins crafting her own story, a parallel fairy tale starring a woodsman, a princess, and a troll. More stories soon emerge from Ridley’s other injuries, and as Maddie learns more about her grandfather, she’s also making his stories her own.
Beautiful Scars is a heartfelt and thoughtful graphic novel about how our past injuries, although hurtful, can become a positive part of our lives. The book — co-authored and co-illustrated by Durwin S. Talon (author of Comics above Ground: How Sequential Art Affects Mainstream Media and Panel Discussions: Design in Sequential Art Storytelling) and E. Guin Thompson — also celebrates the power of storytelling across generations using two parallel stories. The final third of the text is actually the book the adult Maddie is having published as the graphic novel opens, The Many Fantastic Adventures of Scars the Troll, a combination of prose and isolated illustrations based on her grandfather’s stories.
Unfortunately the inclusion of The Many Fantastic Adventures of Scars the Troll actually works against the power of this graphic novel, appearing after what is clearly the end of the main story of Beautiful Scars (about 100 pages) and running for nearly 30 additional pages. Readers have basically already been told the story throughout the graphic novel, so having a prose version with illustrations (which are, albeit, wonderful illustrations by various artists) seems somewhat redundant and unnecessary. Then again, maybe this isn’t such a bad idea. Readers of a certain age may finish the graphic novel portion of the book and revisit it months, perhaps years, later with a fuller appreciation of the prose story.
The art style is clear and light throughout, and vividly colorful in the fantasy sequences. While younger readers might initially become confused by the parallel stories, the clarity of distinguishing between reality and fantasy soon becomes evident. The book is published in an 8” x 8” format, which is familiar to readers of the Mouse Guard books. Beautiful Scars does a lot of things right and is definitely worth your time, especially for younger readers.
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