Loss and learning in a strange and distant world

Loss is inevitable. In the case of Marni, the young girl at the centre of Von Allan’s second graphic novel, Stargazer, it comes much too soon. Not yet a teenager, Marni is confronted with the death of her grandmother. However, Allan’s graphic novel is not only about loss, it’s also about learning how to cope and overcome with time. But Marni doesn’t learn the life lesson while grieving at home; instead, Allan transports Marni, accompanied by two close friends, to another planet to work though the loss.

Stargazer begins with the funeral of Granny Hitchins, Marni’s grandmother and co-conspirator in endless imaginary adventures of afternoons past. Sensing their daughter’s grief, Marni’s parents decide to pass on a small worn sculpture known as the Artifact which belonged to Granny Hitchins, so that Marni can hold onto a memento. The origins of the Artifact are not exactly clear, but it had become a key ingredient to the imaginary adventures shared between Marni and her grandmother.

Now in possession of the Artifact, Marni hosts a sleepover with her two best friends, Sophie and Elora. After the appropriate pizza binge ends, the girls head out to their tent in the backyard. Inside, they begin talking about mementoes and memories when suddenly a burst of light comes from the Artifact.

When the girls emerge from the tent they discover that they’re a long way away from Marni’s backyard. They’re now in a very different world and the Artifact has vanished.

Anyone familiar with Allan’s first graphic novel, The Road to God Knows…, will recognize that there are some striking similarities. Marni is a young girl with a tomboy touch sorting out and coping with a serious emotional crisis, much like the teenage Marie from The Road who is struggling with her mother’s mental illness. However, this time around it seems that Marni’s youth may send her down a different path. Granny Hitchins was a major part of Marni’s life, so much so that it may be much harder to let go and learn to cope.

Allan decided to release Stargazer in two volumes so anyone searching for a well-rounded and complete storyline will be forced to wait until summer when the second half should be released. Needless to say, the first volume concludes with plenty of questions waiting to be resolved, including the role of the Artifact in transporting the girls to another world.

In terms of art, Allan has matured since his last outing, The Road. What made that particular graphic novel stand out was the fact that Allan had only begun drawing when he turned 25, just 10 years before the book was released. Stargazer allows Allan to move away from the limits of reality that kept The Road rooted in rooms and street corners. Instead Allan can surround Marni and friends with a slightly familiar but entirely alien world. At times sparse, Allan’s martian world is the quintessential science fiction planet, including large headed extraterrestrials and robots.

There’s still much for readers to find out, like the Artifact’s true purpose or how Marni will finally deal with the loss of Granny Hitchins. But Stargazer shows that Allan is well on his way to fleshing out a science fiction-inspired life lesson from the vantage point of a girl that’s much too young to be learning them.

Stargazer is available at Astro Books, 1844 Ste.Catherine St.West.


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