Review by Ian Keogh
Splendour in the Snow is a graphic novel that’s the very definition of quiet charm. The focus is the small town of Botany, populated by Diana Thung with a collection of eccentric teenagers able to live their lives relatively untouched by the modern world. Botany is remote, and when winter hits it’s there for a while, although for the youngsters the snow covered forest is a source of adventure despite the adult stories about a mammoth emerging from the underworld in that area.
Olie is the primary focus, assisting his father’s tailoring business, but a bit of a dreamer. His best mate Noel is the force behind the BeeBop Beans, Botany’s finest band by virtue of being their only band, bigging up the town hall, the only venue, as Splendour in the Snow, a forthcoming mega-gig featuring other bands from the area. Tippi is the strangely knowledgable and very curious weird kid, and Chupa is the previously frozen creature that thaws to disrupt the lives of the entire town by somehow generating invasions of strange wildlife.
Thung’s cast are also strange wildlife, pandas mixing with koalas mixing with less identifiable creatures, but for anyone who picked up her previous August Moon the biggest surprise will be the complete change of style. This isn’t just from black and white to flat colour, but such a radical shift you’d not know it was the work of the same artist, yet it’s really lively, expressive cartooning. One strange anomaly is the cold typeset lettering. Having worked so hard to create a comforting environment, the lettering batters against the mood. The right sample page demonstrates one of Thung’s delightfully individual storytelling methods.
There’s a heartfelt understanding to Splendour in the Snow, not least how important facilities like the library, post office and town hall are to small communities, and how people have to muck along together despite differences of opinion because there’s no other choice. This is imparted in passing, naturally during other events, such as the elderly residents becoming increasingly agitated at Olie harbouring what they see as a deeply suspicious creature, but this is contrasted by the underlining that innocence, storytelling and enthusiasm are virtues to be cherished.
Despite a host of possible dangers, including water ghosts, Thung never lets her inventive threats overwhelm youngsters having fun, and there’s always room for a storytelling session or a snowball fight. It still leaves space for an escalating series of disasters, but leading to an inevitably happy ending with everyone that little bit wiser and all mysteries revealed. Thung isn’t in the business of shredding the joy.
Top Shelf only issued this in digital form, but it makes for an absolute bargain at $4.99.