The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1
Seven Seas Entertainment; $12.99
Manga studio Nagabe’s beautifully, carefully, delicately rendered The Girl from the Other Side isn’t quite a beauty and the beast story, a particular fairy tale currently resonating rather loudly in pop culture thanks to Disney, but it certainly echoes elements of the fairy tale. It is the story of an innocent young girl forcibly separated from her family and imprisoned within the house of a monstrous-looking creature who is actually quite caring…and rather well-dressed. There, perhaps, the comparisons end, however, as the girl Shiva is quite young–imaginary tea party-throwing young–and the “beast,” who she calls Teacher, is more of a father figure. The emotional bond they share is one of familial affection and mutual concern; Teacher is her guardian and surrogate parent, rather than any form of jailer and/or paramour.
He is quite an extraordinarily-designed character. Drawn impossibly straight and tall–Shiva is about knee-high to him–he is all black save for his strange, expressive eyes, and his tail and tall, twisting horns give him a particularly demonic appearance. His face resembles that of a bird, terminating in a pointy, beak-shaped projection, although it is not a beak. Though he can speak, he can’t eat; he has no mouth. Beneath his horns he sports a mane of what could be bird-like feathers or wiry, goat-like hair. He’s always dressed in slacks, vests, ascots, scarves and long coats, so the reader never sees any more of his body than his head, hands and tail.
Shiva believes she is temporarily living with him while she awaits the return of her aunt, but Teacher knows her aunt is never coming, for she abandoned the girl, and he took her in. Their quiet life in a rustic house in the forest is fraught with ever present danger. Teacher is something called an “inhuman,” perhaps for obvious reasons, and the inhumans are said to carry some form of devastating curse, which means he and Shiva cannot touch without his transmitting the curse to her. The precise nature of the curse, and its effects on their world, aren’t detailed within this first volume of the new series, but it has emptied towns in the past and sends soldiers armed with bows and arrows into the woods, hunting for inhumans and even innocent little girls who live in close proximity to them, just in case they carry the curse as well.
That mystery helps inform the mood of the comic, which is one of low-level dread, despite the happy home life of the unlikely pair—I wrote “gothic Yotsuba” in my notes at one point. The often stark black-and-white artwork, with shading effected through traditional cross-hatching rather than anything more technologically advanced, serves the story well. A glance at the cover image demonstrates how the pair are defined by their coloring, and light and dark and the contrast between them are essential to the world-building. At one point, Teacher reads Shiva a story from a book, and it is a form of creation myth involving a God of Light and a God of Dark and their construction of two worlds. Our lead characters are on the edge of each world, sharing a life on the liminal border. (The subtitle, by the way, is Gaelic for “Go, my love” or “Walk, my love,” and is the title of a traditional Irish song; The Girl from the Other Side certainly seems consistent with an antiquated Irish fairy faith view of the world.)
Deliberately paced with easy-going scenes that tease out the story, and occasionally interrupted by dramatic occurrences—in this volume, the appearance of outsiders intruding upon Shiva and her Teacher—The Girl from the Other Side is a masterfully told comic. The most dramatic occurrence, naturally enough, occurs on the final page…right where it can make the most persuasive demand that a reader pick up the second volume, currently scheduled for May release. I can’t wait.