Hilda and the Troll
written and illustrated by Luke Pearson
Nobrow Press, 2010

The Hilda books are fantasy graphic novels for young children and adults of discriminating tastes. This first book was originally published as Hildafolk, but in later editions was published as Hilda and the Troll (but with the same cover art). While it is not necessary to read the books in order, this is a fairly good place to start.

Hilda's aesthetic is Nordic twee, which works even better than you are imagining. Hilda is a young girl who lives with her mother in a small cabin in the woods. They have an intelligent pet fox-with-antlers called Twig and frequent infestations of fey folk. This is so completely boring that it is rarely mentioned by the characters.

The story starts with Hilda taking wander through the woods in search of good rocks to sketch. She lucks out and finds a troll rock, that is, a troll that has turned to stone for the day. As is traditional, she ties a bell to its nose, just in case a passing cloud causes it to revert to a man-eating monster before nightfall. After a good bit of intense sketching she falls asleep, and predictably, doesn't awake until she hears the bell tingle. She runs, gets lost, is saved by weird wood-golem thing, and returns home. Late that night, the troll comes and stands outside her house... waiting. She deduces that it is waiting for her to take the bell off its nose, she does so, and the story ends.

I've simplified; the wood golem is his own little mysterious story arc, I've skipped Hilda's silly and melodramatic commentary on her situation, and I've completely failed to communicate how cute Twig actually is. But it is undeniable: plot-wise, this is not much of a book. Plots will improve in later books, but throughout the series the format is that of a web-comic, with every set of pages being a small vignette, usually with a mild punchline embedded in the middle, and often with a minor cliffhanger in the last panel. As far as I am aware, Hilda was never actually published as a webcomic, making this an odd and slightly awkward choice.

This is made up for by the art, which is bright, imaginative, and cinematic, but also entirely in the style of classic children's book/comic's page illustrations. Describing illustrations is hard, so I'd recommend visiting the author's blog, which has a lot of interesting content, including a page specifically for this book.

While I like this book quite a lot, and certainly recommend reading it, later books are a bit more fully realized, both in length and plot. The second book in the series is Hilda and the Midnight Giant, but the best stories come even later, in Hilda and the Black Hound (book 4) and Hilda and the Stone Forest (book 5). You won't miss out on much context by skipping the early books, although you will be missing out on some cool magical creatures.

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