When I first heard about Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchison’s Will O’ The Wisp hardcover, I was immediately intrigued, and not just because I have a thing for hanging apostrophes. This book tells the story of Aurora Grimeon, a quiet yet inquisitive young lady recently orphaned after the untimely deaths of her parents, whose combined acumen in telling the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms proved to be found wanting. Rescued by child services from suffering a similar fate, Aurora is soon sent to live with her estranged grandfather, Silver (not the horse), in his swamp home of the aptly-named Ossuary Isle, the quagmire environs of which are exceeded in spookiness only by the grave presence of supernatural disquiet.
As Aurora awkwardly settles in alongside Silver, local voodoo priestess Mama Nonnie, lovable vagabond Boolie and the rest of the off-kilter and removed backwater community of the isle, they all soon fall prey to a very literal ghost from their collective pasts, which threatens to burn and consume them all in an azure fire of abject vengeance.
I’m not sure if I sold it as well as its solicit, and maybe I was just in the mood for something with what I thought would be its particular shade of wither, but the story sounded great and I liked what I saw of its initial artistic teases. With that in mind, does it hold up to its promise, or does it, like its name implies, merely lure its readers in under false pretense?
The answer is ... well, kind of both. One thing I will say is that this entire thing feels very “young adult” in its themes, approach and appearance. What immediately affirmed that reading in my mind was the creators’ choice in pattern of the book’s inside front and back covers, and first and last few double page spread designs. This may date me, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t the same trippy-ass, melted-ugly-wallpaper pattern that used to cover those DIY books we used to have to put together in grade school. I’m not sure how many others will get that reference, but trust me, I nailed it!
Anyway, by referring to it as “young adult,” I mean to say that I doubt I’m the intended audience for this title, and it would be better suited for someone significantly younger and less concerned with the intricacies of narrative. Saying that, I enjoy what is at the heart of Will O’ The Wisp - a story of life in isolation; sort of the Headless Horseman of the bayou meets Sabrina the Teenage Witch - but I don’t think its telling paid off in practice.
The dialogue to me felt inconsistent, stilted and oddly-paced, like it lacked the sinew holding its scenes together, and instead relied on a formulaic style that employed its storytelling in flat blocks of text. There’s no cadence, no rhythm to the way Will O’ The Wisp is written, it’s just there in short, anaerobic breaths, lacking a regular flow and often suffering from a disconnect between the art and writing. The scene halfway through with the fireflies is by far the book’s most poignant and fluid series of moments, where all of its elements combined beautifully, but unfortunately, it was far too fleeting.
It does achieve a certain measure of “creepy” at points and enjoys at others a moderate foreboding, but it feels muted, merely flirted-with and largely untapped. The same is true of Aurora and the townsfolk’s reaction to what could be their shared grizzly fate. I understand that much of this is magic realism by way of a communal sense of superstition (and the oft-repeated “hoodoo” in the book), so some blasé acceptance of “that’s life” is okay, but their dull nonchalance made the whole thing feel dispassionate and empty. In that way, Will O’ The Wisp feels very emo; so if that’s your bag, you might dig it.
The art from Hutchison, while willowy and lithe, wrapping a pleasant amount of cuteness around an interesting nouveau-gothic melancholy, is also cute and mostly crisp. My only problems with it are that, again, it seems catered for a younger audience and it has problems in its pacing alongside the story, causing this 224-page venture to sometimes feel awfully long in the going, without the depth or resonance such length implies.
Even though it often felt clinical and the story’s beat often skipped for me, it’s clear that Will O’ The Wisp was made with a lot of love, and you have to appreciate the time that must have gone into its making. There are some great elements at play here, with its bayou potion-making and spell-weaving being a regular delight, and there are some great exchanges between characters. For me, though, they come too few and far between and I have to accept the fact that despite my initial excitement, this book, while being far from a torturous read, just isn’t for me, and I personally won’t be checking out its proposed follow ups.
Writer: Tom Hammock Artist: Megan Hutchison Publisher: Archaia Entertainment Price: $24.95 Release Date: 1/8/14