As I’ve said before, Belgian cartoonist Max de Radigues has really become one of the best around at telling stories about young people, both teens and pre-teens specifically. His work captures something natural about the personalities and interaction of people that age, but with an adult author’s perspective that provides further dimensions to the stories without being intrusive. With Stig and Tilde: Vanisher’s Island, the first in a series, de Radigues approaches the adventure form in the same thoughtful way.
Stig and Tilde are 14-year-old twins and their hometown has a very unusual tradition called Kulku, in which kids turning 14 are all sent away together to live on an island apart from their parents for a month. They have electricity and even internet, apparently. When they return they will have passed into adulthood. It used to be the kids were sent away for a year to separate islands and really expected to survive in the wild, but I guess the town lightened up.
When Stig and Tilde take off for Tysla, a storm causes carelessness in their sailing, and they find themselves stranded on another island that is definitely not Tysla. As they work to survive on the island — fixing the boat and trying to find food — Tilde discovers something unexpected about the island that she keeps secret from Stig. Is this a good idea? Will they ever get off the island? Is there more danger there than at first appears? I’m not telling you.
What I will tell you is that de Radigues has crafted a fun, somewhat old-fashioned adventure for kids that holds a few surprises. He also drifts into some darker territory that I certainly didn’t expect, but handles perfectly, and these are welcome aspects since they add an actual sense of danger to the story, which is pretty light-hearted.
The characterizations of Stig and Tilde are also nice. They don’t bicker, though sometimes tease. They like each other. They’re resourceful, but also have their weaknesses. When one shows their weakness, the other is understanding. They don’t ever fall back on narrative stereotypes of kids that you too often find in comics, though at the same time, never come off as role-modeling for readers.
This is a great book for kids and a second book has already been announced — Leader of the Pack, which finds them stranded on another island and facing further dangers. If this first book is anything to judge by, you should probably count on buying that one for your favorite kid, too. And reading it for your own enjoyment, of course.
In Twice Shy, poor Bob never really went anywhere in life. He’s a cabbie who makes enough to get by, live in a modest apartment with cast-off furniture he’s cobbled together from various sources over the years. In his spare time, he creates comics about his life. He’s well-read. But something is missing.
That changes when one day he gets a postcard from an old girlfriend, Wanda. “My life is a mess,” she writes, adding, “I’m sending our kid.”
Bob had no clue he and Wanda had a kid together, and no idea how to parent. But he’s not a bad guy, so when Casey shows, he tries to make the best of it, despite being partly convinced that Wanda, who he knew as a bit of a flake, is pulling one over on him. But there is Casey, waiting on the stoop in front of his apartment building, and Bob gives it a shot.
What unfolds is impossibly sweet and hopeful, a salve for the idea that dysfunction is healable. Cast adrift together, Bob and Casey begin to bond as they open up to each other. Bob encourages Casey to take on a job at an animal rescue shelter and Casey encourages Bob to do more for himself, and together, they grow into whole people together.
The rapport that Orff provides for Bob and Casey is natural and charming, and he provides them with a full world to inhabit together, rendering the city neighborhood with a fullness that provides magic to their interaction and choices that result from their conversations.
As it concludes, Twice Shy is heartbreaking, but still retains the hope that it features throughout. The message is that dissatisfaction is a trap that doesn’t have to be settled for, regardless of your circumstance. There are ways that you can take charge, and the inspiration to do so can come from unexpected places.