From Lewis Carroll to Dr. Seuss through to J.K. Rowling it’s no secret that some of the classics of children’s illustrated storytelling have weirder, darker undercurrents to them. Kids often love to be grossed out by the grotesque excesses of characters and situations that stimulate their imaginations with a wicked glee. Dark Horse’s Dreadful Ed and Mary Scary (collecting two stories from the late 2000s) capitalises on that bleak curiosity in a book that is more graphic narrative than comics but does employ some of the sequential tools of the form on occasion.
When the Boogeyman’s wife Lenore decides to give him the male heir he’s always wanted by switching her newborn daughter with a baby boy from the Waking World it sets in motion a series of events that will leave both children feeling displaced in worlds that they do not belong in. Ed struggles to fit in with the other inhabitants of the twilight realm of Nocturnia and ends up befriending a small group of misfit monster pals at Fright School with similar difficulties. Meanwhile in the outside world Mary, brought up by nuns, proves difficult to home with a family and is the object of ridicule among her peers. A chance encounter, though, will bring both children’s lives colliding together and serve to remind us all of the supportive importance of family…
Told in verse with accompanying single-page images, writer Andrew Cosby gives Dreadful Ed and Mary Scary a jaunty rhythm and an appealingly intimate narrator’s voice. Both characters fit into the relatable “outsider with something to prove” mould that will appeal to younger readers who will relish seeing them overcome their adversities as the book progresses. While the plot is essentially slight the magic here is not in narrative complexity but in character and message.
Troy Nixey’s art is a gruesome delight with a fluid cartooning style that creates a world that manages to be both endearingly cheeky and yet broodingly macabre too. Visual characterisation is of particular note with suitably disturbing denizens of Nocturnia populating each illustration in the early part. There are no less unwelcome nightmares in the second half of the book when we meet the more pedestrian but no just as unpleasant menace of the school bullies of Mary’s world. Each illustration is full of extra details and sight gags, and Nixey will slip into silent panel-to-panel storytelling where appropriate. Dave Stewart and Jeromy Cox provide colours for the dual sections and ensure a creepy feel of vibrant but carefully arranged autumnal or nocturnal hues.
Dreadful Ed and Mary Scary is the perfect eerie offering to be shared together by parent and child. All-ages storytelling that kids will revel in and adults will enjoy as a brief escapist return to childhood.
Andrew Cosby (W), Troy Nixey (A), Dave Stewart & Jeromy Cox (C) • Dark Horse Comics, $19.99
Review by Andy Oliver