by Andy Wolverton
It becomes obvious after reading just a few pages that The Reason for Dragons was a labor of love for its creators. Sometimes “labor of love” translates into “The creators loved it, but you’re going to labor through it.” Thankfully, that’s not the case here.
Wendell is an average-looking high school kid who’s having a really tough time. Like many teens, he’s caught in that in-between zone of being neither a child nor an adult. His stepfather Ted, a hardcore motorcycle freak, isn’t exactly making life easier for him. Neither are the local bullies, who dare Wendell to steal a pamphlet from King Henry’s Fair, a local abandoned Renaissance fair rumored to be haunted.
Putting on his bravest face, Wendell enters the fair and discovers a knight, Sir Habersham, who speaks of swords and dragons, bravery and courage. Wendell soon wonders whether Sir Habersham is the real thing or some whacked out loon, but he doesn’t have a lot of time to think about it, because…. Well, to tell you more would be unfair. You may think the story sounds too familiar to be worth your time, but what follows is story filled with depth, adventure, and a lot of heart.
The greatest strength of The Reason for Dragons is its visual storytelling. Artist Jeff Stokely (who has previously worked on the graphic novels Fraggle Rock and The Thrilling Adventure Hour, both from Archaia) draws with art style that has one foot in the cartoon-friendly world of children’s comics and the other in the more mature comics world, with finely detailed facial expressions and subtle touches not normally found in kids’ comics. One such sequence occurs on page 38 where we see only Sir Habersham’s armored feet striding confidently across the ground, contrasted in the next panel with Wendell in his sneakers taking very tentative steps.
Many of the panels are presented in long “widescreen” shots, giving the reader the feel of watching a movie. The entire presentation is quite cinematic, which I believe is no accident. Writer Chris Northrop has worked as a writer and colorist in animation and knows the strengths of natural visual storytelling. Sometimes a graphic novel has an organic flow and just feels right, as is the case here. Although the writing is rough in some spots early on (Some of Wendell’s actions and behavior seem inconsistent and the scene with the bullies seems forced), the narrative is strong and works far more often than it doesn’t.
Yet the greatest strength of The Reason for Dragons may be in it’s potential to reach a wide readership by successfully joining two genres. As a librarian, I struggle to find books for kids that challenge their comfort zones of realistic or fantasy fiction. Many kids seem to prefer one or the other, but seldom both. The Reason for Dragons is a great read for both types of readers with strong realistic and fantasy elements. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re fighting bullies, a stubborn stepfather or a dragon — conflict is conflict, and good storytelling is good storytelling. Kids (and adults) who enjoy either genre will find plenty to like here.
The Reason for Dragons concludes with five related short stories by different writers and artists, all of which provide more depth to the characters in the main narrative. Although integrating these scenes into the main story would’ve weighed it down, their inclusion as short stories provides a nice extra for readers wanting more. Also included are several pages of fantastic art, sketches and notes.
The Reason for Dragons is recommended for teen readers ages 12 and up and contains mild violence and profanity.
Be sure to check out The Reason for Dragons, as well as several of Jeff Stokely’s other work: