Phelan, Matt – The Storm in the Barn


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  1. Profile photo of Brian HanBrian Han

    A True Hero
    A Graphic Novel Review
    By: Brian Han

    If your loving family and neighbours are suffering from a misfortune caused by a supernatural figure, will you be brave enough to fight against it? Eleven-year-old Jack Clark in the graphic novel The Storm in the Barn, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan, does not hesitate to fight. Jack’s family lives in Kansas in 1937. Due to the dust storms that devastated the grasslands, the family struggles to find farming lands and earn a living. Jack starts to regularly identify streams of lights radiating from the abandoned Talbot barn. In the barn, Jack discovers the “Storm King” and realizes that it was him who has been divesting the people of rain. Fully determined to bring back happiness to the village, Jack boldly stands against the Storm King. Throughout the story, Phelan vividly depicts the maturation of an innocent boy by conquering his inner fears, overthrowing his self-doubt, and dedicating himself to people who he loves.

    The illustration of the novel effectively reflects the setting and the mood of the story. The characters, objects, and landscapes seem to be roughly drawn with a pencil, and delicate parts of body, such as fingers and hair, do not feature a clean finish. Such plain and austere drawing style of the author unveils the gruesome social state of the setting and reflects the lethargy and melancholy of the characters. On the other hand, the author puts a lot of effort on describing the characters’ emotions through facial expressions. Phelan prudently expresses specific emotions through various ways such as altering the position of eyebrows and shading certain sections of the character’s face. In addition, the author wisely arranges the panels to bring more liveliness to the novel. For instance, when Jack confronts the Storm King, the author divides a page into six, seven, or even eight panels and shows the gradual progress of the battle, highlighting the intensity of the situation.

    The color choice and dialogue of this novel can certainly be improved. Throughout the novel, the author implements a narrow range of color choice of black and white. Such choice of monotony certainly fits the lethargic mood of the first half of the story; however, this technique is not appropriate for certain sections of the novel. For instance, Jack’s mother recollects Kansas when it “was a paradise” with “an ocean of grass” and “acres of pastureland”. In contrast to the vibrant, lovely depiction from Jack’s mother, the bleak drawings are still monotonously presented without the utilization of any bright color. This significantly obstructs the readers from vividly tasting the dynamism of certain events within the novel. Besides that, Phelan uses concise dialogues to provide a clear context for the readers. Nevertheless, the readers can only assume how each dialogue should be read, merely on the basis of the characters’ facial expressions. Such limitation hinders the readers from explicitly identifying the emotional state of characters and the tone of the author throughout the story.

    This graphic novel is highly recommended to young children. Jack is not a muscular man with fascinating super powers. Nevertheless, he strives to defeat the villain and dedicate himself for the people who he loves, which is the virtue of all heroes.

    Certainly, some people argue that this novel is not literature since it features many elements of a fairy tale, which is normally read as a mere entertainment. Nevertheless, this novel is able to satisfy the essential requirement of literature: it conveys a specific sentiment to the readers that allows them to reflect on themselves. This graphic novel not only allows young readers to realize the significance of conquering fear through bravery, but also lets them ruminate on their perception of a true hero. Therefore, The Storm in the Barn, an aggregate of thriller, history, folklore, and fantasy, should definitely be considered literature.

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