Review by Jamie McNeil
Raising historical figures from the grave for Adam Murphy’s cartoon image to interview isn’t the most obvious idea, but he broke the mould with his Corpse Talk series, which has proved innovative, informative and entertaining.
For his latest project Murphy introduces little-known folk tales from around the world, eight stories in total from a variety of diverse peoples: the Mi’kmag from North America, a Punjabi tale about the pleasures and dangers of generosity, and even one from ‘Sunny’ Scotland you’ve likely not heard before. There are more from forgotten African kingdoms and the Brazilian coast and, as with all good folk tales, there’s a moral lesson or timeless observation of human behaviour in each of them. Their only familiarity is that they are similar to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which it should be noted consists of collected folk tales, and each region has more or less the same tale in a different format.
Murphy is very imaginative with his narrative methods, weaving modern language with the more grandiose, his illustrations capturing the emotions of the characters and delivering some beautiful scenery to boot, especially on the last page of each story. A wide range of characters are here, Murphy using the stereotypes of a dumb farmer or precocious princess to comedic effect by poking fun at the subject or the lack of common sense the antagonists display. Neither is the subject matter ‘dumbed down’, Murphy understanding that his primary audience actually enjoy a bit of the macabre and appreciate a bit of honesty. Most stories end on a happy note, but can also be bittersweet (‘Why the Sea Moans’) or ringing with regret (‘The Snow Daughter’). Some are darkly funny (‘Riben, Robin and Donald MacDonald’), while others are so beautifully redemptive they bring a tear to your eye (‘Strong Wind’ and ‘Little Scabs’). There is a mixture of the mystical and mysterious, lovely in its detail and it’s obvious that Murphy has taken great care in curating his tales. It’s not material commonly seen in graphic novels and even when it occurred (Misty comics would throw in a legend every now and then) they were never quite as wonderful as this. Everything about Lost Tales is a pleasure and while one story does drags slightly, it’s a very minor quibble. They captivate for all the right reasons without ever becoming preachy.
Like Corpse Talk before it, this is an innovative and ingenious approach not only to comics but also to introducing children to history and culture. The Phoenix and publishers David Fickling Books have an absolute gem in Adam Murphy, consistently good at his work with enthusiasm for his craft dripping from the pages to make this a grand effort.