I’m a big fan of Toon Books and their series of titles for younger readers. Serving as a stepping stone between children’s picture books and comics, the publisher’s books have always served up strong creators and interesting stories. Yvan Pommaux’s “Theseus and the Minotaur” is their first book in their Toon Graphics line for slightly older readers (think the 8-12 year range), and it’s nice to see them taking everything they’ve learned with the other titles and applying it here as well.
Pommaux’s retelling of Theseus’s story works well, focusing on his early days and his fight with the Minotaur of Crete. It would have been easy to make this book twice as long and include more of Theseus’s adventures, but Pommaux has wisely zoomed in on the most famous Theseus story. He deftly glosses over the more adult nature of Theseus’s origin (like how both Poseidon and King Aegeus are his father), but also faces head on some of the darker moments of the story, like Aegeus’s death or Ariadne’s abandonment. Neither are shining moments for Theseus, and it’s nice that Pommaux doesn’t ignore these critical moments for Theseus’s saga. In fact, the added tweak from Pommaux on having Ariadne’s fate being the reason for not changing the black sails (most renditions I encountered had Theseus simply forget, often due to partying) is a good addition and makes both characters’ ends a little richer and more palatable.
Pommaux moves through the story at an even pace; with this being a visual medium, it’s nice to see him take several pages just to show Theseus and company moving through the labyrinth. Pommaux’s rendition of its twisting corridors makes it feel genuinely hard to find one’s way through, and likewise, the battle against the Minotaur gets a good chunk to burst to life. These are the big moments of “Theseus and the Minotaur,” and Pommaux lingers without dragging to a halt. The little footnotes explaining how to pronounce all of the Greek names is a nice touch too, and I like the index of characters, map, and tips and questions at the back of the book.
Pommaux’s art is beautiful, with gentle, soft lines. There’s a lot of detail in these images; look at King Aegeus’s throne room, for instance, with the murals on the walls and careful engravings around the base of the throne. Likewise, the image of Theseus making his way to Athens is such a great splash — with careful detail in the leaves and stones, to say nothing of his leopard pelt and folds of fabric in his clothing — that it’s easy to see why Toon decided to use it as the cover image. One of my favorite images in the entire book is the splash page where Theseus dives through the ocean to retrieve King Minos’s ring. It’s jaw-dropping, with all of the plant life wafting gently in the ocean currents, or the little fish swimming among it. Pommaux wisely devolves Theseus and his helper dolphins into just silhouettes, moving through the water with the faintest trail behind them. As a result, they don’t distract from everything else on the page; add in Nicole Pommaux’s rich colors and you feel like you’re actually seeing him descend through the depths.
“Theseus and the Minotaur” is a great debut for Toon Graphics, and with two fall releases around the corner, I’m already dying to see what’s next. For the younger reader in your life — especially if he or she is as interested in Greek myths as I was at that age — this will be a perfect birthday or holiday gift. Or heck, just buy it for them with no warning. They’ll thank you. Just don’t tell them that you read it first, before wrapping it up.