By P. Craig Russell
Adapted from a story by Oscar Wilde
32 pages, color
Published by NBM
When I’d reviewed The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde Vol. 4: The Devoted Friend and the Nightingale and the Rose back in 2004, I’d commented that it had been 6 years since the last volume and that I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them. With hindsight being 20/20, I now realize that I’d cursed myself for an 8-year wait for The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde Vol. 5: The Happy Prince, and that this time around I should just say, "Hurrah! A new P. Craig Russell graphic novel!" Because ultimately, that’s the response you should have to just about any book by Russell, and The Happy Prince is no exception.
Oscar Wilde over the course of his brief life wrote nine fairy tales (collected in The Happy Prince and Other Tales and A House of Pomegranates), which Russell has been adapting into comics over the years. The Happy Prince is the eighth of these adaptations (some volumes contained two stories), with only "The Fisherman and his Soul" still on deck. The Happy Prince is definitely one of the more downbeat of the stories from Wilde, dealing with themes like selflessness and being truly happy. And while there’s ultimately a "happy" ending, it’s hard to keep from feeling like this is a bleak story that is anything but happy.
While admittedly not being familiar with the original story, what impressed me about the adaptation right from the start was how well Russell handles the pacing; switching from the introduction of the Happy Prince statue to the nameless swallow in love with a reed could have felt jarring; after all, at first it feels like an utter non-sequitur. But Russell makes that transition smooth, and by the time the swallow gives up on the reed we’ve seen that relationship play out over two pages, and I found myself entranced by the little swallow’s love for a plant and how it was never going to end well. From there, as we see the statue of the Happy Prince use the swallow to help give away parts of itself to assist others, we watch the friendship between the swallow and the statue grow; it’s such a strange statement to make, but I found myself entranced and touched between how selfless both an inanimate object and a bird could be portrayed.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Russell’s art is amazing as ever. Consider the fact that the Happy Prince never moves throughout the entire graphic novel, and yet Russell still finds a way to make the statue look expressive and almost full of motion. That’s no easy feat. But Russell’s a modern master of the art form, so it’s not surprising. Everything about The Happy Prince looks beautiful; the elaborate outfits, the detailed buildings in the backgrounds, even carefully rendered flowers. The final two pages of The Happy Prince from Russell are just breathtaking; it’s an emotional climax, and the visuals help turn it into about as much of a upbeat ending as one can, considering the material. It’s such a gorgeous final page in particular that while I suspect a lot of readers will still be staggered by Wilde’s conclusion, this will soften the blow. It doesn’t hurt that Russell’s colorist of choice, Lovern Kindzierski, is back on board (along with Jesse Kindzierski) for gentle and soft hues that accentuate every single page. For a while it felt like Kindzierski was one of the big colorists that everyone turned to for an amazing job, and his work on The Happy Prince is a reminder of how he got that reputation.
The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde Vol. 5: The Happy Prince is another triumph for both Russell and NBM. I’ll be sad when this series finally wraps up with the final adaptation, but it’s also as good a time as any to go back and re-read the earlier volumes. Russell’s art is never one to be missed, and The Happy Prince is no exception. Highly recommended, for readers of all ages.