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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Lola - A Ghost Story

Lola: A Ghost Story
Author: J. Torres
Artist: Elbert Orr
Oni Press
112 pages (hardcover ed.)

Jesse sees dead people, monsters, demons, and lots of other things that go bump in the night that no one else can see. No one except his ailing grandmother - a woman who used her visions to help those living in her small town... the same rural community in all the scary stories Jesse's heard as a child. Man-eating ogres in trees. Farmhouses haunted by wraiths. Even pigs possessed by the devil. Upon his grandmother's passing, Jesse has no choice but to face his demons and whatever else might be awaiting him at grandma's house.

Content warning: Some of the supernatural imagery in the book can be quite gruesome. Not blood and guts gruesome, but quite vividly terrifying.

Oni Press is always releasing quality graphic novels since I can remember (they've been around since I was seven, so yeah), and Lola is certainly one of them. It is a ghost story for people who don't like ghost stories; a supernatural tale for fans of human stories in strange scenarios like Natsume Yuujinchou or Kieli that is never overwhelmed by the presence of ghosts to the point of becoming pure fantasy. Not like there's anything wrong with one hundred percent fantasy, but at the heart of Lola is a tale of humanity and that shines through brilliantly through all the layers of local mythos that gives the novel its unique feel. When's the last time you read a graphic novel exploring Philippine folklore? Exactly.

Jesse is one of those emotionally vulnerable protagonists in a difficult situation that really end up blossoming in stories like these, where they have to balance connecting with their human life while still dealing with the supernatural world that filters through it. He’s the perfect kind of lead to explore the various themes threading through Lola: A Ghost Story – emotional trauma, loss, personal history, loneliness, and so on. Plus, it’s through him that we see how someone so young can deal living between two cultures – Canada and the Philippines, something that parallels Jesse’s being torn between being human and seeing visions that are certainly not human in nature. So yeah, for a book that is barely over a hundred pages, there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

I have to talk about the artwork. It’s fantastic! Orr does a great job of making the characters really expressive, and the art style is clean and simple without being childish. Also, Orr makes great use of the actual panel shapes to convey a shift in time; the flashbacks are all in rounded panels while the others are in normal panels. Pretty cool touch on something that would usually be noted with a change in page background color.

So, in short, Lola is truly a terrific read and worth the fifteen bucks to buy it in handsome hardcover format. It’s certainly not your typical English language graphic novel about a boy who can see ghosts; it is an emotional read with an ending that had my jaw drop, it was so powerful. You can read more about Lola: A Ghost Story and buy your own copy at the Oni Press website.