By Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain
The original graphic novel by best-selling novelist Margaret Atwood, Angel Catbird, is back with the second volume, “To Castle Catula”. Atwood made her comic book debut with the successful first volume Angle Catbird and as anyone who read that book knows, this is a crazy comic and a lot of fun. If, however, you didn’t read the first book then don’t worry, this chapter opens with a recap that will bring you right up to speed. That said, it’s recommended you start from the beginning because it’s a remarkably unique story and every detail is worthy of your attention. Margaret Atwood transitions seamlessly to comics, writing a story that flows with terrific pacing and rhythm. Atwood does her world justice, providing it with genuinely interesting characters and sharp, witty dialogue, but it’s clear she believes in the format as well. Comic books are a place where anything can happen, and it would seem Atwood is taking full advantage of that.
Volume two is an adventure story about transformation and acceptance with plenty of conflict. Fringe-science in the form of genetic experiments resulted in mutated human-animal hybrids. What may sound like a disturbing concept comes across more as a superhero origin-story. This book is also about new beginnings and discovering a secret world that’s been around you all along. Angel Catbird is a highly imaginative premise perfect for comics, with just the exact right amount of wackiness. “To Castle Catula” doesn’t take itself seriously all of the time, and that’s just fine because it works better that way as a comic book. There are things like Cat Facts included throughout, which, though they are actually informative, are more of a wink at the reader. It’s one thing to come up with a clever story, but it’s another to strive for a brand identity. Luckily both of Margaret Atwood’s original collaborators return for the second volume. Angel Catbird is already popular enough that lots of artists would like to contribute, but this book belongs to Christmas and Bonvillain as much as anyone. And along with Atwood, the three of them make for a rich and compelling collaboration.
Artist Johnnie Christmas illustrates the comic with a professional hand. Maintaining an appropriate level of realism, Christmas never fails to utilize the medium in the best ways. No matter how fantastic the situation, he strikes a balance that does as much for dramatic effect as it does for the action. He creates layouts that treat the scene seriously without ever sacrificing the story’s lighter undertones. Christmas is dedicated to the characters in their design and their ability to move and act. He manages their emotions perfectly and keeps up a level of dynamism on every page. To really gain insight into the art process, check out the back of the book where you’ll find a ton of supplemental sketches and layouts.
Perhaps the most expressive layer to the storytelling is thanks to colorist Tamra Bonvillain. The palettes are bold and bright and her painterly techniques perfectly render the line art. Bonvillain sets the mood, at times creating a sense of tension through warmer tones and intense yellows, in an otherwise cool atmosphere. She interprets backgrounds and renders landscapes in a manner that adds depth and contrast while always preserving a clear and saturated look. Bonvillain lends a standout quality to the book’s fantasy elements, which only improves the more you read.
Angel Catbird is just a solid, well-rounded product that practically demands a diverse readership. Advertised as “all-ages” it’s the kind of book comic fans will appreciate because it’s well written and accessible. This is the second of three volumes, so the series is not quite over yet. After “To Castle Catula” you’ll be ready to move straight on to the next volume, but unfortunately you’ll have to wait until mid-Summer. So pick up this book and savor it as long as possible. You wont be sorry.