(2022) Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran, Headline, £14.99, hrdbk, 76pp, ISBN 978-1-472-29064-9
Here’s a graphic novel version of an old Neil Gaiman short story. The story is pretty straightforward. Set in what looks like a 1980’s Britain, Mrs. Whitaker, an elderly widow, buys the Holy Grail in a charity shop, and takes it home to put on her mantlepiece. The result of this is the arrival of a knight who wishes to trade the Grail for other items so that he can complete his quest.
The granny politely refuses, but the offers keep being raised, until at last the trade is made. The story veers between quaintly whimsical and romantic (in the wider sense of the word.) As the title suggests, it is about love, but also honour, about loyalty and maintaining grace and dignity, what I guess these days would be referred to as “old-fashioned standards”. As if this wasn’t enough, there’s tea, cake, and other ancient relics involved.
The author and artist have worked together before (with the Gaiman story Snow, Glass, Apples, published as a graphic novel in 2019) but is in a different style to reflect the text. All of the visuals are shown in a stylised art that combines watercolours and ancient Medieval illuminated manuscripts. The watercolours give the paintings a softer, subtler look than much of today’s modern digital graphics, and the medieval illuminated manuscripts give it an olde-worlde look, even when it involves a 1930’s suburban semi.
For those who know books such as Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, this is similar. There are examples of how the work progressed in the Sketchbook at the back of the book.
I also liked the other elements that have quaintly dated – look, no mobile phones! – and I was amused by the fact that Mrs. Whitaker bought a book from Oxfam for 5 pence and the Holy Grail for 30 pence. (I’m sure these days the books will be £1.99 and the Grail a fiver.)
This graphic novel is a story of determination over adversity. In her afterword, Coleen describes that this is a story that she has been wanted to illustrate for decades but publishing rights stopped her. That and more recently a breakdown, not to mention the impact of CoVID, have meant that this has not been an easy project for the artist to complete.
But the results are worth it.
Chivalry is clearly a project completed with love, and there’s a lot to like. It’s a feel-good story, filled with charm, which left me with a warm glow at the end – that takes some doing! For those who didn’t know already, it would be something to show a reader that there’s more to Neil than The Sandman, American Gods and Good Omens.
See also Mark Bilsborough's take on Chivalry.
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