It’s a good time to be a young adult graphic novelist. Sales rose 16.1% according to Publisher Weekly in 2019 and it’s only going to get better as Marvel, DC, and Random House releases more graphic novels than ever. Out this week is The Runway Princess via their Random House Graphic imprint whose stated mission is “to put a graphic novel on the bookshelf of every child and YA reader.” Mission accomplished with Johan Troïanowski’s new 272-page graphic novel that’s filled with hope, imagination, and wonder.
This is a must-read book not only for children but adults too. It captures the incredible imagination of being young when the world is huge and wonderments are around every corner. Split up into three chapters, the book opens with “The Princess Runs Away,” then tells the tale of “The Princess Runs Away Again” and wraps up with “The Princess Tries to Stay in One Place.” Each story opens with a double-page map of where Princess Robin will be running off to. Along the way, Robin makes friends with a motley crew of kiddos, meets friendly creatures, gets duped by a witch, and fights off pirates. Each of the three stories feels different from one another, yet all are imaginative and visually surreal.
One of the beauties of this book is how Troïanowski never repeats a thing. Every two or three pages, a new revelation of a creature or place is used to liven up the plot and get your imagination going. That could be a new environment, a new bit of flora or fauna, or simply a new level of stakes in play. It’s all quite innocent–you’ll never worry about Robin or her friends too much–and yet you’ll be riveted every second of the journey. Many times I’d marvel at how Troïanowski was able to twist my expectations and keep my interest with something brand new to enjoy.
There’s also an incredibly fun interactive element in this book not to be missed. Characters, mostly Robin, will literally look at us and ask us to help her on her journey. Typically a puzzle, maze, or other clever full or double-page interactive game will be displayed. We must then transverse the obstacle to help Robin and her friends along. Other times we’re simply asked to turn the page quietly so as to avoid calling attention to the party. It’s an incredible way to make the book feel even more immersive.
Aiding that elusiveness is the art, which is stupendous. On the very first page, we’re told the entire book is drawn with India ink and a nib pen on 180g A4 sheets of paper and then colored directly with crayon and inks. I would have never guessed the bright and well-blended colors would be crayon. Layouts consist of four to eight panels and tend to be highly detailed and always incredibly imaginative. Troïanowski’s imagination is quite something with all sorts of incredible plants and creatures you’ve never seen populating the pages. At one point there were a few creepy clowns, but it was told in such a way that it was quite merry in mood and setting. This book is as much fun as it is a work of art. I wouldn’t doubt many will simply open this book up to put a smile on their face thanks to the incredible art within.
The Runaway Princess is without a doubt one of the most creative and imaginative graphic novels I’ve ever read. It’ll be on the shortlist for the best graphic novel of the year and I’m already on the hunt for more work by Troïanowski. The Runaway Princess is a lot of fun to read — three stories filled with discoveries, thrills, clever twists, all tied together by pleasingly varied visuals that are endearing and wonderful.
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