Winner of the 2011 Manga Jiwan competition, Elena Vitagliano’s The Deep Needs Train is a succinct yet highly expressive piece of fantasy storytelling. It centres on a mysterious steam train that can only be seen by a select few; a mode of transport that takes its passengers to their heart’s desire rather than a geographical destination…
Acting as our point of audience identification is Alex, a young girl who we first meet in the company of her grandmother. Like a number of other commuters on this magical mode of transportation, Alex’s journey will be one of self-discovery, as this small group of travellers must come to terms with their lives and the forces that have shaped them. What Vitagliano conjures up here is a tale with a real Studio Ghibli vibe to it. A brief but rewarding foray into regrets, despair and yet, ultimately, second chances. An emotionally intense but satisfyingly feelgood production.
There’s a reason a venerable old title like 2000 AD uses its Future Shocks strand of one-off short stories as a training ground for new creators. It’s because there’s a particular skill set needed in constructing a narrative that includes an engaging plot, absorbing characterisation and effective resolution in only a handful of pages. That’s echoed here as in just eight pages Elena Vitagliano accomplishes all those aims, with the real achievement being the number of sympathetic characters she manages to conjure up given how brief their “on-screen” time is.
Artistically, one of the great feats of The Deep Needs Train is in its depiction of so many contrasting tones and feelings in such a short storytelling space. From childhood innocence to moments of utmost despair, from personal devastation to self-doubting fear, this is a rollercoaster ride of poignant highs and lows. Vitagliano is always more than capable, though, of responding to the visual demands of her tale’s ever shifting emotional core. Touching and memorable, the craft of the short story format is ably represented in this memorable 8-pager.