By Luke Pearson
40 pages, color
Published by Nobrow Press
In the past couple of years, you might have noticed a small British publisher named Nobrow Press starting to make an impression on the comics market. Their books are impeccably designed and printed with extremely high quality, making owning them not only pleasurable for their contents but also their presentation. And while I’ve sampled several different books of theirs and made mental notes to try more, it’s Luke Pearson’s books starring Hilda that have grabbed me the most. Hilda and the Bird Parade is the third and latest one in this series, and in many ways it’s not only the most relatable but also the most charming.
Pearson quickly brings new readers up to date in the first few pages of Hilda and the Bird Parade. You don’t need to have read the first two to grasp the basics; the adventurous Hilda and her mother used to live in the countryside, but they’ve just moved into the city of Trolberg. What starts as an attempt from Hilda to get to know the local children and make some friends rapidly turns into a new fantastical adventure involving a talking raven, getting lost, and the ever looming and mysterious Bird Parade. Pearson’s writing here is almost immediately immersive, and the fact that Hilda herself is new to Trolberg makes it all the easier to get pulled into the story as a reader. She’s equally in the dark as the rest of us, and we get to piece things together alongside her.
After portraying Hilda as a free spirit who gets to rome around in the expansive outdoors in both Hildafolk (which gets a new hardcover edition named Hilda and the Troll later this year) and Hilda and the Midnight Giant, it’s an interesting step forward to have Pearson tell a story where Hilda’s mother is suddenly much more protective and worried about her daughter’s adventures. It’s a great progression from the first two books, and it’s also a clever inversion from the setup we normally see in children’s adventure stories. Instead of the shift from city to country being where the great unknown exists, for Hilda and her bother it’s the complete opposite.
As fun as the earlier books were, it’s Hilda and the Bird Parade which I think will strike a chord with its readers above the others. While I suspect few will have actually encountered a talking bird in need of help, many will know all about moving to a new locale and finding it hard to make friends and fit in. Pearson does an excellent job of showing how Hilda is out of sync with her schoolmates; the way that Hilda focuses on the "wrong" pieces of entertainment, or how she misses the point of their games until it’s too late. Pearson makes the other kids a little too rotten here and there—surely at least one or two of them aren’t quite this bad—but at the same time, we are seeing the events through Hilda’s eyes (and there’s a lot to be said for peer pressure). Regardless, the disorientation and bewilderment that Hilda goes through is just as gripping as Hilda trying to help the hurt raven, and these two halves of the story work beautifully together.
It’s hard to talk about Hilda and the Bird Parade without touching on the art, of course, as it brings just as much charm to the book as Pearson’s equally excellent writing. Hilda herself is adorable, with her little stick legs, big head, and beret perched perfectly on her blue hair. Her charm just oozes off the page, and you can see the eager expression on her face whenever it’s a new place to explore or a new sight to be seen. It’s the surroundings of Trolberg that really grab you in Hilda and the Bird Parade, though. He’s able to bring so much of it to life; the twisty streets, the strange statues, the sea of rooftops. When Hilda gets to a high vantage point to see all of Trolberg spread out below her, her exclamation of surprise is easy to understand. Pearson makes it just as breathtaking for the reader as for Hilda, and it gives us a much better idea of just how large this metropolis really is.
The creatures of Hilda and the Bird Parade are just as much fun to look at. Pearson brings them all to life in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The explosion of birds from the tree is fun to stare at and just look at all the different types and colors of birds, for example, and the dreaded salt-lion is able to shift from innocent kitten to terrifying adult in the blink of an eye. When we finally see the infamous Bird Parade, I love that it’s more about the crush of people than the floats and spectacle of the parade itself; Pearson does a great job of letting us see it as the short Hilda would, surrounded by adults everywhere. And of course, with Hilda and the Bird Parade printed in an oversized hardcover album edition, it gives Pearson even more room to let his art spread out for readers to drink in.
Hilda and the Bird Parade makes Pearson three-for-three in his success with the Hilda books. Hilda and the Bird Parade is charming and touching, and is truly meant for all ages. This is the kind of book that you can’t read just once; once you’ve started, it’s hard to put down. If you’ve never read any of Pearson’s comics, any of the Hilda books is worth a sample. Just be warned: once you’ve read one, you’ll want the other two, too. Fortunately, that’s a good thing. Highly recommended.