Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Chivalry’

“Just think of those out in the cold and dark, ’cause there’s not enough love to go round”

In the back of this book, Colleen Doran writes about the extremely long process it took to adapt this. The rights were tied up for years (Neil Gaiman wrote the original story in 1998 or thereabouts), and when she was able to do it, she wanted to do it as an illuminated manuscript, which would have taken forever, she notes, and probably driven her to bankruptcy. Then, when she decided to change her approach, COVID hit, and that messed her up, plus she was unable to go to the place where the story is set and take photos. Eventually, however, she got it done, and here we are. Doran adapted it, obviously, and drew it, including the lettering in the “manuscript” portions of the book, while Todd Klein does the rest of the lettering. Dark Horse is the publisher!

In this story, Mrs Whitaker, an elderly English lady, finds the Holy Grail in a thrift shop (the Oxfam shop, specifically), so she buys it. It’s a steal at 30 pence! Weirdly enough, she knows exactly what it is – when she has tea with a friend, she tells her what it is. What kind of witch is Mrs. Whitaker, anyway?!?!? Of course, owning the Grail attracts attention, so when Sir Galaad (yep) shows up looking for it, it’s probably not surprising. Galaad brings her gifts which he hopes to exchange for the Grail, but it takes a few tries before he brings something she actually wants to have (the Grail looks nice on her mantel, so she doesn’t want to part with it). Finally, he does bring something she wants, and she gives him the Grail. All is well.

It sounds a bit dull, but of course it’s not. We get to know a bit about Mrs. Whitaker, who’s a widow, and the love she had for her husband. We get to know a bit about Galaad and why he’s on this quest. They form an odd but sweet friendship. Meanwhile, a young lady who clerks at the Oxfam shop catches the eye of Galaad, and he bonds with the neighborhood children, who dig his horse. The emotional crux of the story comes when he offers her an apple of the Hesperides (the nymphs of the evening and the sunset), which can restore youth. Mrs. Whitaker thinks about her life and her dead husband, and she has to decide whether to take the apple. It’s a beautiful moment, and Gaiman (and, I suppose, Doran, but I don’t know how much she trimmed or added) has/have done a wonderful job getting us to that point. What does it mean to be human, asks the story, and is it enough? You can probably figure out the answer, but it’s still a nice moment.

Doran’s art is a big reason to get the book, of course. The story is solid, if a bit slight, but Doran’s art takes it to gorgeous heights. Her fine line and soft watercolors in this book create a dreamy environment, and before Galaad gets there, we get a sense of a fairy-tale England, where people are kind and reserved, minding their own business and not worrying if others are up to things they disapprove of. When Galaad arrives, the book gets even more wondrous. Doran does a clever thing with him – while Mrs. Whitaker is drawn with somewhat sturdy lines, Galaad – especially his hair – is drawn with a bit less strength, making him more of a character out of fiction. It makes him nicely incongruous with the suburban setting of the book. When Galaad offers his gifts, Doran really cuts loose, giving us full-page splashes of the history of the gifts and their powers – when she holds the phoenix egg, she sees blazing birds in the sky and mysterious, exotic lands. Doran excels at contrasting these magical pages with the more mundane but no less magical pages of Mrs. Whitaker remembering her romance with her husband – again, she uses stronger lines and duller colors, but the emotion of Mrs. Whitaker and her husband shine through. When Galaad tells Mrs. Whitaker his own life story, Doran creates illustrated manuscript pages, with softly painted figures instead of penciled ones, evoking a time from the distant past. It’s a stunning book, visually, and it makes the sweet story even sweeter.

Chivalry is a fun story with a nice heart. Doran’s art is always excellent to see, and I’m glad she was able to actually finish this, as it sounds like it was rough. Gaiman knows how to make an idea work in a story, so this is a pleasant comic. We could all use more pleasantness these days!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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