Oh Neil Gaiman. My writing god of the 1990s, it sometimes takes me a while to come back round to you. Not because I don’t love you anymore – but because sometimes authors belong to a time and a place where you don’t wish to disturb them in case the magic vanishes.
A long time has passed since a rather cute engineering geek thrust a copy of Preludes and Nocturnes into my sticky mitt in a remote computer lab at Northumbria University. That lab – E3 – was infamous for very little work and a great deal of pleasure. Ahem. I’ve kissed a few geeks in my time, and most of them were in E3.
I digress. I’d never read a graphic novel before. I had no idea that what he was giving me would open the door to a huge pleasure parade. For years I wallowed. Then I ‘grew up’.
Correction. I got stuck in the mud. Mortgage, sensible job, night school (necessary after I blew my original degree snogging boys in E3). Life has a funny way of sicking bricks in front of your bicycle though, and as I came sailing over my own personal handlebars 3 years ago I landed in a soft cushion of graphic novel trade paperbacks. Back to the pleasure dome.
You may wonder what this has to do with Troll Bridge. Well, actually quite a lot. I’m lucky that my library has a pretty sweet graphic novel section. I was actually after Stephen King’s The Gunslinger Born when I came across Troll Bridge, with it’s rather twee cover. It looks like a kids picture book, excepting the large library sticker proclaiming it adult stock.
I’ve read the short story before in some dim part of my past. I registered it enough that I knew I’d read it but couldn’t recall the finer details. There was a boy and a troll. OK. I checked it and The Gunslinger out and headed to a coffee shop. Three coffees and a caffeine buzz the size of Blackpool Tower later and it was finished.
The art work by Colleen Doran is beautiful. It took a couple of reads to truly appreciate it. We start with the bright palette of childhood then watch it gradually dim through adolescence until we reach the grey colours of adulthood. It’s subtle but once you see it – particularly through these older eyes of mine – it makes perfect, life crushing sense. I just wish they’d used one of the bleaker images for the cover, instead of making it a little too Gruffalo but that is a very minor quibble.
I won’t spoil the story but suffice to say it’s a proper grown up fable with a sting in it’s tail. It’s readable in your lunch break. It’s the innocence and pleasure and missed opportunities of childhood stripped back to expose your own ugly underbelly. I loved it. I saw myself reflected in it. Right now I’m wading through the grey shades of middle age harking back to the primary colours of university. Perhaps it’s a reminder to live in the now, seeking the colours that we shed along the bike track every time we hit a stone.
I went back to E3 recently, out of nostalgia. It now sells shiny pin badges, hoodies and pens with the Northumbria logo on them. All my geeks have left the building but there was a part of me that smiled. And remembered the colours.
Quote: ‘It’s not that I was credulous, simply that I believed in all things dark and dangerous.
Verdict: 5/5. Outstanding. And I don’t say that very often.