Spoiler Warning: It’s impossible to really talk about this comic without divulging a bit here or there.
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Art by: Colleen Doran
Publisher: Dark Horse
So Neil Gaiman went and wrote himself a fable of sorts, and I’m not sure how to approach it. Fables by themselves aren’t exactly reviewable; they’re short, little pieces of straight-forward fiction with a message to dissect at the end. I’ve finished Troll Bridge, and I want to talk about it very much, but none of that conversation wants to be about how good or bad it is.
Good or bad isn’t the point. Plus, it’s Neil Gaiman so you know it’s amazing.
The graphic novel tells the story of Jack and his first encounter with a troll. He’s wandering the countryside as a young boy of about seven, his imagination as wild as can be, and there the monster sits. It wants to eat his life. Jack makes a deal; he’ll come back later when he’s had more life to live. He’ll be a better meal then.
With that summary, I’m sure you can guess where this book goes. It’s not a story about surprises…because it’s a fable.
Instead it’s a story about Jack as a character and how he grows to be a man that’s a bit cynical and a bit bitter. He’s not a good person. There’s a lot of regret in his life, but there’s something worse underneath that, something harder to pinpoint. It’s hard to tell if this darker underbelly stems from him simply growing up or from something else.
Basically, the crux of the story is: Did Jack’s first meeting with the troll spoil him, or was he rotten from the start?
Or that’s how I look at it. There are plenty of other ways to tackle the story though. It is, by and large, a coming-of-age tale, a sad look at growing up and watching the world change around you in ways you didn’t expect or like. It’s about your hometown devolving from this grand place of adventure to a boring city you don’t recognize anymore. It’s about your dreams not becoming a reality but finding something close enough to be almost fulfilling in a way that you only regret a little bit. It’s about all the things you wished you had said but were too scared to.
It’s about being an adult and thinking back on that one, strange moment of fantasy that happened when you were a child.
Or you could look at it from the troll’s perspective, for he is just as important as Jack. Or you could look at it through the lens of depression, because while it’s not overt, the last handful of pages when Jack is an adult certainly have elements of a deeper gloom than just being upset. Or you could look at it as a metaphor for relationships and how we can all be a troll to someone else, feasting on life and time and not even know it. Or…well, you get the point.
Troll Bridge is a literary marvel. It’s got layers upon layers upon layers of things to dissect, explore, and debate. It’s the kind of book I want people to read simply so I can ask them what they thought of it.
It’s also gorgeous to look at. Colleen Doran has the perfect art style for this story. It starts off so kid-friendly and whimsical, reminding me of, I dunno, Christopher Robin and his adventures with Pooh Bear or something. It isn’t that mind you, at least not in terms of style, but in terms of tone? The beginning 20 pages remind me of every story my mother read me in one way or another.
By page 20, the story starts to feel a bit scarier and more vulgar than your average kid’s book, and on page 26, Jack has this facial expression that’s almost evil looking. From there, the book continues this gradual, almost accidental slide away from innocence. The colors get darker, the pallet gets more muted and washed out. Jack’s home town goes from a haven of adventure to plot of robotic streets and buildings.
The artwork grows up with the narrative.
Troll Bridge is a wonderful piece of fiction that’s not quite as fun or enthralling to read as it is to think about. It’s one of those stories. That isn’t so much a flaw as it is a fact, but the comic book lexicon—and my bookshelf—has room for these types of stories. They’re important. There’s a reason fables are remembered and passed down from generation to generation. This is one of those.