Last year Diana Thung and Top Shelf Comics released August Moon, a book that came in very high on my Top Graphic Novels for 2012. Well Thung is back with another title that was released digitally a few weeks back in full color and had as much of an impact on me as August Moon did, if not more. Splendour in the Snow has a lot of themes running throughout the story, but the most predominate theme that stood out to me was finding something that you love to do and doing it to the best of your abilities. It’s become a rare thing in comics to have a story that inspires, teaches a lesson and at the same time is very, very good. Splendour in the Snow is one of the most amazing stories that I’ve read so far this year. It’s a cast of anamorphic animals, living in a world of other animals and while that seems strange… it really works and at the same time creates a sense of community.
The story begins with two friends Oliver Peach (a panda) and Noel Pelk (a monkey of some sort) sitting on the top of a pile of stones in the forest. They’re discussing their future as Noel’s younger brother Charles crawls around playing. Noel plans on working at the post office during the day and then playing in his band at night and he wants Oliver to work with him. Oliver on the other hand needs to help his dad with their family business since they’re the only tailors in town. He shows Noel one of the puppets he made and Noel busts on him for being tone deaf saying he would have made a good guitarist with so much dexterity in the hands. Charles falls down and hurts himself as small children do and Oliver begins telling him a story with the puppet and soon Charles is enthralled in the tale and forgotten his tears. Noel is quick to make another tone deaf joke about Oliver, but their time is cut short by a snow leopard that appears behind them. They sprint frantically down the hill passing others along the way until they crash in front of Oliver’s house. They tell Oliver’s dad and his neighbor Mr. Hayes about the leopard and Hayes scolds them for going so far into the woods. Here we learn about the “old world” and the curses that can happen to the town should anyone find Mammoth bones or other such things from the quote/unquote “old world.”
The story then jumps three years later. Noel has a talented band called The Beebop Beans and play gigs all over town, while Oliver works for his dad carrying on the family business. Noel leaves band practice to head to work at the post office where he’s late and sent to deliver mail around the neighborhood. Oliver on the other hand becomes distracted at work and sows a puppet he’s made onto the end of someone’s coat. His dad notices that he’s distracted and sends him to get the cotton he’s ordered. Along the way Noel and Oliver bump into each other and we see that they’re still very good friends. On the way back home Oliver becomes distracted again by one of his puppets and the story he creates for it. A customer tracks down Oliver and talks to him about making a wedding dress for his daughter, but Oliver is a bit hesitant to take the job. He ditches his responsibilities and plays in the woods for a bit until stumbling upon what looks like an animal frozen in ice. Distracted he drops the cotton in to the river and is forced to chase it down. He leaves the animal uncovered and heads home to dry the cotton before his dad finds out.
As he prepares the cotton to dry by a twist of fate the frozen animal rolls down the hill and lands right in his lap. He puts it in the shed with the cotton and sits watching everything, but misses Noel and the Bebop Beans show. He’s their biggest groupie so when he doesn’t show the band takes notice and it sends Noel into a fit of rage. Meanwhile in the shed, Oliver sits distracted and doesn’t notice that the ice has melted and freed the animal once trapped inside. He soon comes face to face with the creature and doesn’t know what to do. As he attempts to leave the shed, Noel busts in and soon the boys have discovered a new pet that may be from the “old world”. What's worse is that it's arrive coincides with strange activity in the town involving the forest animals.
I really could go on and on because I haven’t gotten to the meat of the story, but that’s the brilliant thing about Thung’s writing style. She doesn’t start with the conflict of the story, but rather she builds the world and characters and sprinkles in elements that play into the conflict/main plot line. Literally it’s another twenty pages before you begin to see how everything is connected and even longer before you see how the two different story lines are connected. Thung is a fantastic storyteller because she holds your interest throughout the entire tale. With a lot of stories, be it a comic book, movie or TV show the audience wants to know why they should care about any of it. This is why the conflict or plotline is revealed so early on. With Thung, I could actually see myself being entertained just reading about these characters day to day lives and so the slow reveal of the plot was actually quite perfect.
This story is so much more than an old world curse that may or may not bring about the destruction of the town. It’s about friendship as we see with Noel and Oliver and what they’re willing to do for each other even if they don’t hang out every day anymore. It’s about family and standing by each other no matter how bad things get, but the list doesn’t stop as it also deals with superstition, gossip, mob mentality, trust and listening to others. This story has all of those themes and even still the one I mentioned in the beginning about finding your calling and having the support to do it because as I’ve learned from experience you need a lot of those other themes in your life if you’re going to succeed. Thung has written a story that is not only inspiring and I mean truly inspiring, but it also captures a huge range of emotions making it magical and captivating reading experience.
Since I was already very familiar with Thung’s art from August Moon there wasn’t much of a surprise for me on this story. She’s a fantastic illustrator and has actually managed to improve from Moon. I’m not usually a fan of anamorphic animals, but something about her style and the story made it work incredibly well. They’re adorable character designs and the variety of animals gives the book a unique look. A lot of times creators will pick a theme of animals and stick to that, that is to say that you won’t see panda’s and moles hanging out, but that isn’t the case in this book. I loved the character designs as they were not only cute, but memorable. The art plays an important role in the emotions of the story and I think that by having animals as the characters it almost works better. The facial expressions are much more striking and truly display the emotions of the scene. This was the first time I’ve seen Thung’s artwork colored and it was truly amazing. I’ve never hidden the fact that I love black and white and it was one of the things that I loved about August Moon, but seeing Splendour in the Snow colored was amazing. The coloring is perfect for the story and makes it look as magical as it reads. It does leave me torn as to whether or not I want to see her future work colored or in black and white though, but either way it will be a win for the reader.
Last year was a great year for comics, but already 2013 is shaping up to be a better year due in part to strong releases such as this. Right now the title is available digitally from Top Shelf Comics, but if it goes to print you can bet your ass I’ll be picking up a copy. Creating a world in comics and stories in general is a difficult thing to do and yet Thung has created a storybook-esc setting where a Panda is the tailor, a monkey is a postman and musician and dozens of other animals all play a role in a community giving this book a fleshed out world to take place in. I hope that Thung has more stories for this town and world because I would love to take another journey there, even if it’s just to say hi to familiar faces.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Diana Thung
Publisher: Top Shelf Comics
Release Date: 1/30/13
Website: Top Shelf Comix