Originally introduced way back in 2010 in Hildafolk, at the time part of Nobrow Press’s fledgling 17 x 23 series, the adventures of Luke Pearson’s plucky heroine Hilda have become one of the greatest phenomenons of UK comics publishing over the last decade. When I reviewed the first album-sized Hilda book Hilda and the Midnight Giant back in 2012 I said then that it established Pearson “as one of the outstanding new talents on the British comics scene”; a sentiment that was echoed in Pearson’s British Comic Awards win that year. Since then Hilda has gone on to multiple acclaimed volumes of Scandinavian-style folkloric fun and, of course, cross-media success with a Netflix animated series.
The latest Hilda book launches in early September as part of Nobrow’s Flying Eye Books imprint for younger readers and just in time for the Hackney Comic + Zine Fair. Unlike the earlier, more self-contained Hilda offerings, the series has now taken on a serial narrative aspect with Hilda and the Mountain King continuing on from events in Hilda and the Stone Forest. Life in Trolberg takes a startling turn when Hilda awakens to discover she has been transformed into a troll and must adapt to a new life as part of the stony creatures’ underground society. Meanwhile, Hilda’s mum finds her daughter has been replaced by a troll-like child in human form. What is the truth behind this strange switch? Can Hilda’s mum and her friends find her before troll hunter Erik Ahlberg and his patrol take on the troll population? And just what is the stunning secret that sits at the heart of Trolberg and threatens to change everyone’s lives forever?
From its opening sequence with a troll-like Hilda running through subterranean passages in terror, Pearson throws us headfirst into the story with a panel-to-panel kinetic fluidity that underlines the expressive vitality of his sequential storytelling to perfection. This latest instalment of Hilda’s adventures has a tragicomic air to it. There are moments of near slapstick comedy (the troll-child’s inadvertantly destructive interactions with the human environment they find themselves in for example) which are juxtaposed with the poignant loneliness and devastation of Hilda as she dwells on whether she will ever be able to return to her previous family life. There are echoes of 2012’s Hilda and the Bird Parade in that latter aspect as both mother and daughter endure that most primal fear of parental separation from their own distinctive perspectives.
In story arc terms this is the book where so much of Pearson’s world-building comes full circle with the origins of troll society explored and revelations about Trolberg’s past coming to the fore. It’s also a beautifully played character piece, though, with emotional resolutions in terms of Hilda and her mother’s sometimes fractious relationship. This is a Hilda whose world has been turned upside down, and one whose usual self-reliance has been knocked out from under her. It’s to the credit of the series that there’s a genuine sense of jeopardy to this pivotal story as characters and storylines converge.
Hilda and the Mountain King has allegorical layers as well that highlight its genuine all-ages appeal. The human-troll conflict and the prejudice of the townsfolk towards the society it displaced have obvious metaphorical parallels and there’s an undoubted moral to the tale that is skilfully interweaved into the more magical elements of the book. The Hilda stories keep our attention not just because of their captivating charm and enchanting imagination but because narratively they constantly challenge their own status quo and allow their cast to grow and evolve. Hilda and the Mountain King is in turns thrilling, touching and even thought-provoking.
Nearly seven years ago at Broken Frontier I said “If there’s any justice in the universe then I fully expect that one day public libraries will be as packed with Hilda albums in their section for kids as they were full of Asterix and Tintin ones in my childhood.” I’d say we’ve long since passed that point for this remarkable character and that most singular creative force behind her adventures. Decide for yourself in September at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair when you’ll be able to pick up the book at the Nobrow Press table.
Luke Pearson (W/A) • Flying Eye Books, £12.95/$19.95
Review by Andy Oliver
Nobrow Press will be exhibiting at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair on Sunday September 8th at Table 1. Luke Pearson will be at Gosh! Comics on Saturday August 31st for the Hilda Comics Workshop. Details here.