Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Took’

“And I feel it like a sickness, how this love is killing me”

Took is, perhaps surprisingly, not a biography of a sidekick hobbit, but it is, as the cover tells us, “a ghost story graphic novel.” It’s a book by Mary Downing Hahn, who gets an above-the-title credit, but it’s adapted by Scott Peterson, who writes it, Jen Vaughn, who draws it, Hank Jones, who colors it (with flats by Frank Reynoso, Laura Martin, and Christiana Tushaj), and Morgan Martinez, who letters it. It comes to us from Etch and Clarion Books, both imprints of HarperCollins. Man, publishing is confusing, y’all.

This is a pretty good comic, although it’s really not geared toward me – it’s a YA book – so I’m not sure if someone in the YA crowd would like it more than I do. Sorry, I’m not a YA. What I do like about the book is how it gets into the fragility of American life without being too overt about it, as ostensibly it’s about an immortal witch who lives in the wilds of West Virginia and steals a girl every 50 years to be her servant before returning her and taking another one. The new girl she targets in this book is Erica, whose family has just moved to the area from Connecticut, so she’s a bit more vulnerable as the family doesn’t have much of a support network in town (not that that would matter, as the witch has taken local girls before this). Erica’s brother, Daniel, is the POV character, and he explains that their father lost his job in Connecticut and was forced to move to a cheaper place and take a job at the Home Depot, which embarrasses both the father and Daniel. Both Daniel and Erica know something weird is going on in the woods, and the local kids tell the legends about the girl who disappeared 50 years earlier and the witch who took her, but of course, their parents don’t believe them and they have a typically contentious sibling relationship, so they never talk to each other about what’s going on without fighting. Daniel, as the older one and as an idiot boy, even disbelieves Erica when she tells him things, even though he knows there’s something weird going on. Eventually, of course, Erica gets taken, and Daniel has to figure out a way to get her back. It’s a YA book, so it never gets too, too dark, but it does get a bit creepy, which is nice. Even if we believe that Erica will be returned to her family relatively unharmed, the book has a lot of tension about that outcome, and there’s also the matter of the girl from 50 years earlier, who is rejected by the witch but believes she needs to get back to the witch because the witch loves her. What to do about her, when she’s completely lost from a time she remembers?

The horror stuff is pretty good, but I’m more interested in the various subtler themes running through the book. As I noted, the father loses his job in tony Connecticut and the family moves to West Virginia. Just that juxtaposition, with the loaded states “Connecticut” and “West Virginia” (whatever the reality, we have visions in our minds of both those places), is interesting, and the fact that Daniel’s dad can’t get a job for a year after he gets laid off (it’s never said what he does; he works for a “corporation”). It implies they were spending beyond their means, and that Daniel’s father is too proud to take a “menial” job until he’s forced to, and it says a lot about the idea of wealth and status in the States. When they do move, their mother has to work, and the implication is that it’s demeaning that she has to. This attitude seeps into their home life, where their mother starts smoking, doesn’t cook anymore, and their dad plays on-line games and stops photographing things, a hobby that he can share with his kids. They don’t believe Daniel and Erica, of course, because they’re the adults, but they also dismiss the children blithely, and it’s implied it’s partly because they’re worried about “adult” things and think the kids are being childish. This leads into how the old witch is able to keep the kids under her thumb. Magic is involved, naturally, but both the girl from 50 years earlier and Erica show signs of being abuse victims who love their abuser – neither of them want to leave “Auntie,” despite her cruelty, and the first girl tries desperately to get back once she is rejected. The witch might have been cruel, but she also paid attention to the girls and was actively involved in their lives – in a negative way, true, but still – and Erica, at least, is getting rejected by her parents and criticized by her brother. It’s an interesting and sad way to bring up the idea of abuse and how it has such a powerful impact on the abused – neither girl is fully healed by the end of the book, and it’s clear it’s going to be a long process. Erica also presents a slightly humorous case, as she doesn’t know how to do the chores the witch wants her to do. Some of them are antiquated and it reminds us how quickly the world has changed – the girl from the 1960s at least knows a bit about “old-time” chores, but Erica has no idea – but there’s also the element of the loss of independence on the part of modern humans, as so much is automated and we idle away our days. It’s not the main theme of the book, but it is there.

I’m not a huge fan of Vaughn’s art – it’s a bit stilted and occasionally the perspective in panels is wonky, as if she tried to fit too much into one panel and perhaps should have split it up a bit – but she tells the story well, and her weird witch’s familiar is very well done. She also does a nice job showing how isolated the family is in their lonely house and how decrepit the town is, which helps make the creepy tales the locals tell (which, of course, turn out to be true) a bit more eerie and also understandable, as they live in a place without distractions from the tragedies of the world. Vaughn does a nice job showing the slow disintegration of the parents from middle-class yuppies to desperate lower-class strugglers to terrified people worried about losing their daughter, which makes their plight and Erica’s disappearance have a bigger impact. It’s not a great-looking comic, but Vaughn generally does nice work and the art is never confusing. She sets a good mood, which is what you want from your artwork.

Took is not really for me, but I still enjoyed it. YAs might like it better, but what do I know? I do like the fact that it’s more than a ghost story, and the subtext makes it more interesting than if it was just about a mean old immortal witch. Check out the link below if you’re interested, and remember, if you use that link for anything, not just to buy this book, we get a bit of that back, so there you go. Christmas is right around the corner, you know!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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