I found this read via The Happy Nappy Bookseller. I tried to make this rambling post spoiler-free and w/ some brevity (as you know I could go on and on)…but I can go ahead and tell you that this a middle-grade graphic novel even adults would enjoy. I recommend it.
Hereville: How Mirka got her Sword by Barry Deutsch
Amulet Books, 2010.
Hardcover, 144 pages.
Mirka Herschberg is a spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old who isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she does want: to fight dragons! But she’ll need a sword—and therein lies the tale! –Back cover.
“An elegant, subtle examination into the gender roles, deep religious roots, and everyday cultural elements of an Orthodox Jewish society, while also being a witty, enormously clever adventure quest featuring a girl who will happily and firmly inform you that she is, indeed, hero material.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
While I admit to knowing next to nothing about the culture/community of an Orthodox Jew, Hereville is still accessible to those like myself. I think that I missed some of the subtle moments and not so subtle moments that would have sparked humor or registered criticism. Actually, I’m fairly sure I did. But I didn’t feel alienated, nor was the community or family made incomprehensible. I was able to connect with the characters, to laugh, and feel the angst for Mirka who would fight/find her own way within the traditions/culture of her community. Deutsch shares a glimpse into a different world for me, for that alone, the book has value.
Deutsch provides translations for unfamiliar terms and provides some cultural explanations, e.g. “Eating pigs is strictly forbidden in Hereville, so no one keeps them. Only Rochel, who hadn’t lived there her whole life, recognized the creature” (20). He does this without breaking stride. He integrates it seamlessly into the story.
Hereville is an adventure story. Mirka wants to slay a dragon; in order to do so, she needs a dragon, and a sword. The sword is within reach thanks to the new neighborhood witch. But before Mirka can find herself on an adventure of a grander scale, like those she dreams about, she finds a few things to slay a little closer to home. The Grand is made small; making real the idea that there are conflicts/beasts Mirka would need to overcome first in Hereville and in her own home; or at least come to grips with them.
Mirka is at an advantage, her eyes are open to the world around her and she doesn’t share in the same fears/roadblocks other characters/peers/family members do. She also at a distinct disadvantage–she sees things others can’t–like that pig that is tormenting her. The pig makes her look “deranged,” eating her homework, tearing up her stepmother’s garden, undermining her and her sisters’ marriageability. And within the hilarity of the trouble with the pig you can still mark the serious conversation to be had. Mirka realizes how the pig is “destroying her life” (38), and our heroine applies her cunning and determination and fights back. Eventually her bravery/uniqueness is rewarded with an opportunity to obtain the sword she would need to slay a dragon. This part of the story comes quite late to the book. I had expected it sooner (when approaching the read). But Mirka and Hereville required time to build character and story first. Everything is built in by the time the Troll comes into frame, but Deutsch isn’t obvious and the little turns are momentous–and charming.
Mirka finds that she should not cast aside the seemingly unimportant, and that she still has things she could learn from those she feels oppress her.
Deutsch draws compassion into the lines of his characters, even if these characters would otherwise thwart Mirka’s plans/dreams, explanations for behaviors/views are given serious consideration; they too have their own plans/desires within their shuttered community. An argument is even made on the side of Dragons (4, left (illegible, sorry)).
For all the sense of portent in Hereville it really is an entertaining read, light if you desire it. I think this one would be good for a book club, especially for those with the cultural edge.
Hereville started out as a webcomic. It had some work done to the drawing, panel composition/lay out, color. I wasn’t a follower of the before, so this isn’t going to be a comparison of the changes. I just garnered the information from the Hereville website. Take time to look it over.
Hereville is easily digestible in its art. It didn’t provoke me one way or another. I rarely lingered over a panel more than I felt was necessary to collecting the content or register a “nicely done.” This is merely personal aesthetic. In the end I see its digestible visual presentation as one that allows Hereville to reach the wider audience. This is an easy Graphic Novel to recommend.
The color of the pages is a unique choice. I am curious if it was a decision to visually set the story apart? What is the significance in the chosen palette? The background colors are warm and palatable, and the black against it is muted. In the later pages, during the night sequences a dark gray nearing purple is used and the effect of the day lit pages is maintained. Shadows are washed, lighting has smooth edges. The colors would off-set any tension in the story–while evidently not destroying it.
page 31, the first page of a nightmare that even gave me chills…
The drawings are mobile, expressive, pleasant. Some panels are text heavy and others are completely silent, though no less weighty. It is a balanced and well-done experience with lovely moments, clever and creative details. I am partial to the clucking word bubble on page 38. Deutsch moves the story in and out of panels, having fun while still using format to best relay the story. The novel is easy to follow and easy to look at, always moving and changing and implementing the tools of an ever expanding craft. Hereafter should be on all the lists for recommended graphic novels for middle-graders and/or beginners to the form, as well as those long familiar.
Doret's review at The Happy Nappy Bookseller