Award-winning Graphic Novelist Svetlana Chmokova is back in the fantasy world with The Weirn: Be Wary of The Woods. Chmokova has come a long way since she first burst into the world of graphic novels in the mid-2000s. She created the fantasy world of The Weirn in her Night School graphic novels in 2009, which introduced a universe where young witches, werewolves, and other magical children attend supernatural school.
Where the Night School books were Young Adult and the art more reminiscent of manga, Be Wary of The Woods shifts to a younger, middle-school audience. Chmokova's art style has also evolved away from the overt manga look to a more natural style that assimilates both Japanese manga stylings with a Western cartoon illustration.
The story now follows a group of grade-schoolers as they try to unravel a mystery involving disappeared children.
Ailis is a Weirn, a witch born with a companion guardian spirit who attends the night school of her New England town with werewolves, mermaids, shapeshifters, and other supernatural children. She lives with her aunt while her parents are away and hangs out with Na'ya and her cousins. When Na'ya's little brother D'esh disappears, Aillis and Na'ya gather their friends to venture into the Silent Woods, where a forbidden mansion sits, a trap for children where a corrupted spirit and an evil Weirn woman lay in wait.
Chmokova's artwork and writing take on a lighter tone here as befits a middle-grade story. Aillis and her friends are all recognizable goofy, awkward, gawky, hyperactive kids that middle-school readers can identify with quickly. There's goofy kids comedy throughout the story and moments of pathos that kick in unflinchingly when the darker parts come. Themes of kids asserting themselves, conquering fear, and saving each other from evil through the power of friendship is a common and needed theme that Chmokova reiterates from manga, and that's what kids read these stories for. Another convention Chmokova brings in from manga is the back material after the end of the story, where the artist-creator writes and draws a little cartoon about her thoughts and process for creating the story. It's a way to welcome and engage readers in the creator's world that's often charming and endearing. The Weirn Books: Be Wary of The Silent Woods is the first in a new series, and is funny and charming enough to continue for a while to come.
The Weirn Books: Be Wary of The Silent Woods is out now.