Written by Jane Yolen
Art by Mike Cavallaro
160 pages, color
Published by First Second Books
I remember when, years ago, First Second announced some upcoming books in their catalog that included a graphic novel written by Jane Yolen. Yolen is one of those masters of fantasy, with a bibliography rapidly closing on over 300 books, plus numerous short stories and awards to her credit. And, while many of her novels are intended for young adults, she’s written for adults as well. So a graphic novel from Yolen? This seemed too good to be true. Now that I’ve finally read Foiled, I must admit that I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.
Foiled follows Aliera Carstairs, a member of her high school’s fencing team that doesn’t fit in with any of the cliques. It’s a familiar basic setup for a fantasy novel, the outcast character slowly finding their own place in the world. Yolen’s certainly familiar and adept with that situation, and a lot of the first half of the book helps set up Aliera’s world and setting. Watching Aliera push through her mundane world isn’t bad; she’s got a dry narration voice, calmly and caustically describing everyone around her. It’s one of the draws of the book for this half; Aliera clearly views herself as more mature and learned than most around her, but at the same time Yolen lets flashes of Aliera’s teenage spirit push through on occasion. She presents herself as calm and cool, but when new student Avery is teamed up with her for a month-long biology project, she’s anything but collected. Her simultaneous attraction and confusion towards Avery is one of the most perfect distillings of the teenage hormonal surges I’ve seen depicted in comics.
With Foiled being a fantasy as well, though, once that element pushes forward into Foiled things get a little tricky. Once Yolen brings this part of the book into the story, it feels like everything is accelerated into a different pace. We get large exposition dumps presented to both us and Aliera, and it’s hard to entirely swallow how swiftly everything else plays out. What I can’t decide, though, is if Foiled should have been a longer book or not. I think a lot depends on if Foiled is supposed to be a stand-alone book or not. There’s certainly a lot of setup for a series (or even just a sequel), so it’s possible. And if that’s the case, I think I’m more all right with the rapid-fire pace of the second half. If there are additional books down the line, Yolen’s just pushing us to the point where we can have a new series of stories all blossom, once we know the truth about Aliera’s heritage and abilities. If Foiled is meant to stand on its own, though, I’d rather the book had just run an extra 30-60 pages in length. Why sprint towards the new status quo if we aren’t going to see anything to come out of it?
Mark Cavallaro draws Foiled, and when it comes to his work on the book I have no complaints whatsoever. I love the way he draws Aliera and company, from little pert noses to crisply drawn ovals and triangles for heads. It’s a very clean style, but don’t confuse that for one that doesn’t contain detail. Cavallaro knows how to create just the right bang and impact in the visuals; the double-page spread of entering Grand Central Station makes it feel massive and imposing, even to someone who’s been there many times before. And even when he’s drawing something as simple as Aliera getting nervous as time ticks by, he brings her squirming inner feelings to life with her face twisting and grimacing. Cavallaro also makes a decision in drawing the Faerie creatures as cute rather than hideous, but still giving them the right sense of menace when it’s needed. It’s a nice depiction of the characters, and it fits in well with the rest of the style chosen for Foiled.
This might be Yolen’s first graphic novel, but there are some nice tricks along the way she uses. When Aliera loses her foil, there’s a cute visual sequence on what happens to the weapon and where it goes from that point that wouldn’t have worked that well in a prose novel. Watching the various creatures transport the foil in the background while the rest of the story continues onward is a sort of storytelling that wouldn’t work in most other mediums, and I’m pleased to see how she worked it in. Likewise, she and Cavallaro use Aliera’s color-blindness with great effect in Foiled, giving a reason for Cavallaro’s pale blue and green washes across the pages, letting us really see Aliera’s world through her eyes and making the appearance of faerie have that much more of a visual pop off of the page. (Although it does make you wonder if Aliera’s mention of sports drinks looking too much like window cleaner to be a slight mistake, though.)
Foiled is an interesting book, one I’m glad I read. But I do wish the second half had unfolded at a slightly slower pace; barring that, I hope it’s because there’s a sequel (or more) planned down the line. Still, it’s a strong graphic novel debut for Yolen, and she clearly understands the format. Hopefully any more graphic novels from Yolen will have less of a wait involved. I’ll definitely pick up more comics from Yolen, though. It’d be fun to watch her slowly conquer another storytelling medium.