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Even at this advanced point in the decades-long flowering of the graphic novel, both in public esteem and in mainstream publishers’ plans, David Nytra’s The Secret of the Stone Frog stands out as a remarkable book, one that accomplishes something I don’t remember seeing any other similar work manage.
It’s from Toon Books, editor Francoise Mouly’s imprint of Candlewick Press, which for years now has been producing superior, hardcover kids’ comics for readers of various ages. And at 77 pages, it’s the first to be explicitly labeled a graphic novel.
The story is a traditional one of two children, brother and sister, the latter of whom is on the cusp of adolescence — their parents think Leah is now old enough to get her own room, rather than sharing one with her younger brother Alan — and one night when they go to sleep, they awake in a world that’s similar to the one they know, but with familiar aspects exploded in fantastical directions. The setting, or settings, suggest Victorian England, and Nytra’s artwork suggests classic children’s literature from in and around the same period.
His elaborate and detailed black-and-white art, drawn with a crowquill pen and india ink, resembles that of John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Pauline Baynes’ for C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series; although the fine line work and classic-looking subject matter may also suggest to you E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for A.A. Milne’s Pooh books, or Beatrix Potter’s drawings for her many animal tales, or the full-page illustrations that appear in the various Andrew Lang colored fairy books.