by Lori Kendall, Assistant Editor
Actress Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit) and artist Johnny Fraser-Allen have paired up to create The Squickerwonkers, the first in a series of children’s books detailing the adventures of Selma of the Rin-Run Royals and her encounter with the fabulous Squickershow.
The story begins when Selma, a clever and passionate child, wanders away from a fair and ends up in a dark carriage wherein lies the spooky Squickerwonkers. Much of the first half of the book is dedicated to introducing these nine marionettes, a motley assortment of puppets led by Papa the Proud and Mama the Mean. Each puppet enjoys their moment in the limelight as their names and flaws in character are recited to the curious little girl.
As the second half of the story unfolds, the marionettes dark intentions are revealed and Selma’s own flawed character comes to light. What they have in store for her and the lesson that she will learn are left for further books to explain.
Beautifully illustrated by Fraser-Allen, a name best known to those familiar with the Weta Workshop of New Zealand, The Squickerwonkers is filled with gracefully crafted scenes. The playfully dark artwork enhances the tone of the story and helps bring each of the unique characters to life. At times the drawings can be a bit complex for the book’s recommended age range, but there’s always something new to discover when you begin to focus on the intricate details.
Evangeline Lilly uses five line poems with a limerick-style rhyming scheme to tell The Squickerwonkers tale. While reading the story silently the meter seems a bit disjointed – sometimes stopping in strange places and at other times feeling a bit too sing-song or repetitive – however, when read out loud these problems largely disappear. It was with the words spoken aloud that the story truly comes to life.
The Squickerwonkers is a quick read and a bit light on plot. As the beginning of a series of books, Lilly focused more on introducing readers to the cast of characters and the turn of events that will send Selma on her journey than on presenting a fully-fleshed out story. That being said, The Squickerwonkers offers a rich glimpse into the world that Lilly and Fraser-Allen are creating.
The Squickerwonkers is intended to be “a graphic series designed for children” and as such the subject matter is a bit darker, the drawings more complex and the vocabulary more advanced than your average children’s book. A bit more Grimm than Disney, Lilly and Fraser-Allen are unafraid to challenge their young readers and offer up a cautionary tale that promises to delight those willing to take the journey.
ComicsOnline gives The Squickerwonkers 3 out of 5 creepy marionettes.