The worn-out recommendation of “Do one thing and do it well” seems to gain new life every time Archaia manages to produce a new original graphic novel. “The Reason for Dragons” comes from the creative team of writer Chris Northrop and artist Jeff Stokely with a bit of creative fairy dust sprinkled in by Sean Murphy, who provides a nice, revelatory introduction for this tale.
A story of coming of age, choosing the right and proper thing to do and keeping an active imagination, this graphic novel opens with our sixteen-year-old protagonist, Wendell, getting lessons on how to kick ass and change oil on a motorcycle from his stepfather, Ted. The problem is Wendell couldn’t care less about motorcycles, oil or kicking ass. He’s delivered to us as a dreamer, more content reading “Moby Dick” under the shade of a tree than plying a new skill or learning any new skills. Ted, however, thinks the boy should focus on things that have real-world application. Their inability to properly communicate sets the story in motion and enables Northrop to show us just how lonely Wendell truly is.
That loneliness leads to King Henry’s Fair, a burnt-out husk of a once bustling attraction. In the remnants of the Fair, Wendell meets Sir Habersham (or Sir Crazypants as Wendell dubs him). The Red Knight stalks the grounds, seeking to vanquish the dragon and restore order to the kingdom. Northrop constructs the character from the ground up, but doesn’t give too much information, as he does with Wendell, Ted, the town bullies and the wildcard character of James McGee. Habersham, as it turns out, has more in common with Robin Williams’ character from “The Fisher King” than he does John Cleese’s character in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” but that’s not to say there is no truth in his raving. Northrop constructs a story with gradations and layers, giving every character a chance to grow, both in the story and in the readers’ hearts.
Northrop is paired well with artist Jeff Stokely. I’ve enjoyed Stokely’s work on BOOM!’s “Six-Gun Gorilla,” but was drawn to this book by the striking imagery of a medieval knight and a modern-day boy sharing a seat on a motorcycle. Stokely’s art is somewhere between Rob Guillory and Charles P. Wilson III, with a titch more animated energy more often found in Sean Galloway’s work. Thinking about that combo a bit, the result could wind up something like a platypus of comic book art, which wouldn’t be too far afield. Stokely’s style is clean, but rough, sketchy where it needs to be, but full of strong storytelling. The color work from Chris Northrop and Andrew Elder works nicely with Stokely’s lines, helping “The Reason for Dragons” to shine throughout.
The lead story in this book is eighty pages, which is exactly right to keep this adventure moving along nicely. The package is flushed out with five short stories that follow the lead, building backstory and for Wendell, Ted and Haberdash; five pin-up sketches; four pages of sketches and design work from Stokely and Murphy; and an afterword with thoughts from Northrop and Stokely. While the lead story of “The Reason for Dragons” may leave readers clamoring for more from the interaction between Haberdash and Wendell, the adventure comes to a satisfactory conclusion, albeit one that deserves to be shared and enjoyed more than once. This isn’t an all ages read, but it certainly is a relatable tale that is not limited by the reader’s age or experience in life.