Greg Ruth’s horror-tinged fantasy offers a surprisingly chilling treatment of childhood imagination run amok.
Exploring the mystical secrets behind a child’s disappearance in a small New England town, children’s book author Greg Ruth’s first foray into the comics field does not disappoint. Published by Scholastic Books’ Graphix comics imprint, The Lost Boy is, as you might expect, geared toward the child demographic. While the subject matter might be somewhat darker fare than Ruth’s past picture books, this graphic novel is still unmistakably child-friendly, without things ever feeling as if they’ve been overly simplified for a younger audience.
It isn’t too much of a stretch, in fact, to describe The Lost Boy as Maurice Sendak meets The Twilight Zone. While Greg Ruth’s past experience writing for kids has certainly informed the making of this book, the eerie, otherworldly elements dominate the plot, and provide the driving force behind the story as our hero delves deeper into the mystery behind a boy’s disappearance decades earlier.
The impetus behind the story is the arrival in town of Nate, a young boy moving into an old house with the rest of his family. Though Nate isn’t exactly thrilled to be moving, he at least manages to quickly make friends with Tabitha, the neighbors’ daughter, who soon comes to accompany him on his journey. In the crawlspace beneath his new bedroom, Nate discovers an old tape recorder. In the recorder is a tape that holds recordings made by a boy named Walter Pidgen, the “lost boy” of the book’s title, some fifty years ago.
From there the book transitions to a dual narrative, as Nate’s experiences in the present mirror Walter’s in the past. A variety of strange characters come and go, including an animate tree known as the Vespertine, life-sized toy soldiers, and a host of sentient insects. All this forms the backdrop for Nate’s journey into a world that is at turns enchanting, horrifying, and simply strange.
As a whole, The Lost Boy is a captivating, beautifully made graphic novel. Younger and older readers alike are sure to find something about the story they’ll enjoy. The art is solidly constructed, with a keen eye for both facial expressions and emotion, and the writing feels altogether grown-up, if not quite “adult.” Rounded out with an open-ended and thought-provoking conclusion, Ruth’s book has all the makings of a fantasy classic. Regardless of age, The Lost Boy is a book all comic fans would do well to give a try.
Greg Ruth (W, A) • Graphix, $24.99, September 4, 2013.