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Unikorn – Flying High

Writers: Don Handfield and Joshua Malkin
Artist: Rafael Loureiro
Colorists: Dijjo Lima and Daniel Da Silva Rodrigues
Letterer: D C Hopkins
$19.99
Scoot / Scout Comics

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

Roald Dahl

The above quote from children’s book author Roald Dahl (notably Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach) was chosen by Unikorn authors Don Handfield and Joshua Malkin as their young adult graphic novel’s epigraph. It serves as both inspiration and aspiration for this coming of age story about twelve year old Mae (Maeve) Everhart who is given an unexpected opportunity for healing and moving forward after loss by connecting to the past but only if she can solve the mystery of a tempermental horse and beat a villain.

Mae and her father Jake have recently returned to Herriot, a humdrum of a town where people probably don’t lock their doors at night. The town name is perhaps a nod to All Creatures Great and Small’s James Herriot. Raised on a farm just outside of town, Herriot was once a happy place for Mae and her father. The only connection — and a bittersweet one at that — she has to that earlier period of her life is helping out the eccentric Mrs McNulty who now runs the farm where they’d lived and Mae’s mother had a small veterinary clinic where she lovingly tended to all animals.

While Unikorn’s theme is about magic and wonder in the world the message would be moot without characters and relationships worth the investment of your time. Thankfully Handfield and Malkin didn’t waste their time either. Mae’s character is given a number of likeable traits. She’s curious, observant, sympathetic, treats others with respect and kindness, and stands up for what is right. Neither is Mae afraid to take the initiative, sometimes alone and other times knowing her limits and asking for help. At school Mae is content to have several close friends who stand by her side when her arch nemesis Devin Rigard, whose father operates a local horse stable, makes her the target of jokes. I expected Devin to be a one note character when first encountering him and was pleasantly surprised with the development the writers put into both the character and Mae / Devin relationship while avoiding the budding romance trope.

Her father Jake is a bit more complicated. Being a loving father means he has Mae’s best interests at heart though Jake is convinced ignoring his emotions is his only recourse to dealing with the death of his wife, Mae’s mother. Jake isn’t a bad person because he doesn’t know how to handle his grief. Truth be told, many of us are like Jake in our inability to handle sorrow. The pain Handfield and Malkin felt after the deaths of a parent became the means to explore and address their own grief before it over ran their lives. Jake’s denial does make him susceptible to manipulation by the story’s villain who comes under the pretense of good intentions thus risking his relationship with Mae because she isn’t afraid to back down even with her father.

Then there’s Mrs McNulty. On the surface her eccentricities are humorous and a bit non sensical to the outside observer. However, her happiness stands in contrast to Jake’s emotional pain and blindness. McNulty herself is a surprise hiding in an unlikely place, playing a mentor of sorts to Mae and a guardian to Percival (AKA Percy) an ill tempered horse residing in the barn on McNulty’s farm. Percy is the enigma which tests Mae’s willingness to take a leap of faith into the seemingly impossible where mysteries will be revealed and Mae and Jake’s lives are forever changed.

Two other points I think that are relevant to the magical theme. The first is Mae’s full name Maeve which is an old Irish name that means “she who intoxicates”. Maeve appears in Irish mythology in two forms, one as the powerful Queen of Connacht, the other as the queen of the fairies. Maeve of Connacht was a warrior queen, famous for starting a war in attempt to steal her ex-husband’s stud bull. The other point is that I see Mae and Mrs McNulty being symbolic of two of the three aspects of maiden mother crone archetype with Mae’s mother being the missing link as it were.

Unikorn is full of fantasy elements but it requires being grounded in the real world to heighten its message. The trio of artists, Rafael Loureiro on pencils and color artists Dijjo Lima and Daniel Da Silva Rodrigues, have done an exemplary job of creating Unikorn’s characters and fashioning Herriot into a believable setting for them to inhabit. Loureiro is quite convincingly skilled at depicting an assortment of people ranging in age (kids and adults) and animals. Some of the most well known comics artists excel with one group while being less successful with the other two. Lima and Da Silva Rodrigues’ complement the line art with a lightly rendered color palette.

Unikorn was created with the young adult audience in mind. Mae and her story would be as relevant in the pre-pandemic world as it is today. While its core message is about moving forward in life while grieving I think its meaning will be an inspiration for other young adult readers facing Covid related stress.

Look for Unikorn at your local comic shop or indy bookstore or ask them to order it with this ISBN: 9781949514728. The graphic novel may also be purchased from Amazon.

January 6, 2022
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