Red Moon tells the story of Mox, a dog who runs away from home in an effort to reclaim his freedom, only to discover that he holds the key to preventing a global holocaust. Not many authors would be up to the task of pulling off such an ambitious fantasy-adventure — let alone one starring a scrappy Schnauzer mix — but David McAdoo largely succeeds, thanks to his beautiful, energetic illustrations, and appealing, principled hero.
By David McAdoo
Rating: 12 and up
2010, Cossack Comics, ISBN: 978-0-615-35324-1
$19.99, 200 pp.
When we first meet Mox, he’s in the doghouse (literally) for chewing his master’s prize golf gloves. At the urging of his pal Daeden, a former house pet, Mox digs his way out of the yard and sets off into the night with Daeden. Mox enjoys a brief taste of autonomy before disturbing visions — desolate cityscapes, flattened forests, and a blood-red moon — begin interrupting his waking life. Desperate to make sense of these images, Mox consults the Colotal, the wild animals’ spiritual leader. What Mox learns is that he has a special ability to sense the ebb and flow of the Om-tira, “the language of the spirits of nature”; his visions are a form of prophecy on which he must act to save all living beings.
If Red Moon‘s story feels, at times, fashioned from the bits and pieces of a dozen other science fiction and fantasy works in which a small, seemingly powerless individual turns out to be Earth’s only hope for survival, David McAdoo’s bold artwork makes a fresh impression. McAdoo employs a strict palette of black and white, using only an occasional splash of red to underscore the intensity and horror of Mox’s visions. McAdoo’s strong linework yields some richly detailed images that fill the pages in the manner of a Medieval tapestry, with six or seven different scenes unfolding in miniature. Though a few of these layouts verge on busy abstraction, most of the story is beautifully composed; the action sequences are fluid, and the animals rendered with just the right mixture of naturalism and anthropomorphism. Only the lettering seems incongruous: McAdoo employs a hodge-podge of different fonts for the dialogue, adding an unnecessary element of visual noise to some of his most intricate pages.
McAdoo also demonstrates a genuine feel for character. Though Mox is a familiar type, McAdoo resists the urge to have Mox embrace his destiny with gusto; we watch Mox wrestle with his fear of dying (a malicious crow tells Mox that his visions portend his own death), struggle with violent emotions, and wonder if he should have remained with his human family. McAdoo hints at Mox’s bravery and wisdom in the early stages of the story, allowing him to gracefully and naturally evolve into his later role as the prophet of Om-tira. The artwork nicely illustrates this transition; Mox’s body language changes subtly over the course of the book, from hesitant and cowering to tall and forthright, his eyes shining with new purpose in strength in its final pages.
Parents and librarians should note that Red Moon contains some violent imagery. In one scene, for example, Mox attacks a feral cat, picking it up in his jaws, while in another, Mox sinks his teeth into a raven in a battle-to-the-death. None of these images are gratuitous or sensational — given Red Moon‘s apocalyptic storyline, some violence seems essential to convey the horror and urgency of the situation — though sensitive readers may find them upsetting.
Like many beloved children’s books — Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Watership Down come to mind — Red Moon uses its animal protagonists to explore human beings’ complicated relationship with the natural world. McAdoo’s story addresses a variety of topical issues, from environmental devastation to animal cruelty, offering a blistering indictment of the way we treat domesticated and wild creatures. At the same time, however, his story ends on a hopeful note, suggesting the possibility of greater accord between man and the natural world — a message that seems especially timely, in light of the current Gulf Coast crisis. Recommended.
Review copy provided by the author. All images © 2010 David McAdoo.