By | Tuesday, May 06, 2008 Leave a Comment
I received in the mail last night my pulped wood copy of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Creator Barry Deutsch began posting the story online at the end of 2007 and has, as of this writing, gotten 24 pages on his site. Thanks to some promos surrounding the recent Stumptown Festival, though, I ordered myself a copy. Why? Primarily because of the tag line: "Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl."

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the story is about an 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl named Mirka, and how she has to fight a troll to get her sword. Mirka, it seems, wants to slay dragons against her step-mother's intentions so, after rescuing a witch from two teen-age thugs, she's directed towards a troll who owns the finest sword (the required tool of dragon-slayers) in the town of Aherville. Mirka, as the title suggests, is able to defeat the troll and obtain the sword, but the victory is somewhat Pyhrric.

The story is very well crafted. The seeds of Mirka's final victory are planted in the first few pages of the tale, but not in a manner that's immediately obvious. Indeed, even after Mirka's competition with the troll begins, her foregone victory (it's in the title, after all) comes about in a surprising manner. There's a clear lesson here: that your guardians teach you things that will be useful whether or not you can recognize that at the time. But further, that what you learn from them isn't always what you might obviously think you learn from them. (That might sound a little confusing but, trust me, it makes sense in the context of this story. If I were much more elaborate, I'd risk giving away some of the more subtle, nuanced portions of the story which are best experienced, I think, for oneself.) Hereville, like any good story, is able to connect with itself on many points and there's no real wasted efforts.

The storytelling itself is very solid. In fact, there are a couple of particularly nice page and panel layouts. I especially liked Mirka's leaving the town on page 26, and the start of her victory over the troll on page 51 which nicely echoes/bookends an early page in the story. Interestingly, Deutsch's linework improves markedly over the course of the yarn. The basic drawings are fairly consistent, but the inking over top of them changes. Not knowing how exactly he worked on the story, it's hard for me to tell if he switched tools, just got better at using them, or started drawing at a larger size that allowed the artwork to look crisper as it's reduced. In any event, it's an interesting development to witness and serendipitously (I believe) mimics the development of Mirka as an individual.

The other aspect of the book I might point out is Jewish-ness of it. Much of the dialogue is peppered with Yiddish (which Deutsch unobtrusively translates for us Gentiles) and there's a notable sequence early on where Mirka's family celebrates Shabbat. I'm always impressed by writers who can weave a story together, telling people about their faith, without coming across as proselytizing. While the scene does seem at a bit of a dischord with the rest of the story, it clearly puts Mirka's character in perspective and, I suspect, will tie in more as Deutsch continues to develop it.

If I were forced to make one complaint about the pulped wood version, it would be that the book is just a tad too thick to comfortably bind with two staples. I'm sure that Deutsch opted for that instead of a square-bound format because of costs but, interestingly, it's a little too thick because he did NOT skimp on the paper quality itself. The paper itself is at least on par with what you'd find in a marvel or DC book and trying to fold that over 30 times simply makes a book that doesn't want to stay closed. Although, once I've got this bagged and tucked away in a long box, that won't be an issue at all -- it's only a tad awkward having the cover open on its own while the book is sitting on your desk or coffee table. Like I said, it's a minor issue, and not at all relevant if you read it online.

All in all, an excellent tale, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Deutsch takes this next.
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