How much power does a single man, let alone a single leaf, have in the industrial world? In this wordless, all-ages graphic novel, our protagonist discovers a leaf that radiates a vibrant light. He returns to a detailed metropolis – depicted in somber grays and blues – and searches for answers. During his quest, he stumbles upon a man who knows what’s really happening in the city’s labyrinthine ducts; a woman who spends her life studying and classifying obsolete flora; and the truth about the ever-dwindling environment. Leaf is a graphically stunning story that unfolds with a dream-like pace. Shaded in pencil and punctuated by spot colors, drawn in a delicate but concretely realized tonal approach reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, Chinese cartoonist Daishu Ma’s first foray onto American shelves is ultimately a hopeful vision of the coexistence of the urban and natural worlds. Full-color illustrations throughout.
Wandering around Page 45 – Nottingham’s best comic book shop – I came across this intriguing effort and typically curiosity got the better of me and my wallet. The best bit about this cover (unless you have a foliage fetish) is that there is a leaf-shaped hole allowing us to see the title on the page behind. I mention this because it made me feel like a kid again being fascinated by a hole in the cover and on the strength of that and my natural curiosity like the man in the book, the sale was already a done deal.
Stories with no words are always thought-provoking beasts, body and facial expressions become more of an art than just an accompanying depiction to underline words. Whether subtle or blatant each person will, according to their own experiences and thoughts open the story up to unique interpretations of the nuances within the main framework of the tale.
The pencil drawings are wonderfully realised, mixing different sizes and detailing throughout its pages. The limited use of colour really brings out the features in each illustration and creates a vivid feel of something magical that is taken for granted in real life. The imagined world is both grounded in reality but also has a distinct fantastical influence so the reader is both familiar but also intrigued by the setting.
The world we find is one that is in a state of precarious balance between nature and the technologically obsessed bleak towns and cities of human creation. The loneliness in our civilisation these days and our need to be integrated with technology is underlined in blatant terms but there are still some places of magic and mystery which will intrigue the reader and keep the dismal feeling away.
Contrasting this backdrop of miserable buildings and distant strangers, there are some noticeably warmer and touching juxtapositions in the form of character memories. The feeling from the reminiscences provide a nice distraction from the main story and also round out these mute people in a way that makes further readings more pleasing as we already have an understanding of the characters when we meet them for a second and third time.
The ending was a little bit of a let down, it was understated and steady which goes with the feel of the book yet I felt I wanted something more. Without giving anything away the books final pages can be seen on two distinct levels which neatly tie in with each other in a pleasing enough way, I just wished there was something with a bit more resolution, or punch, either would have been good.
The comparison to Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is the closest one I can make from past reading experience, this tale is not as good sadly, it doesn’t have the same emotional impact, however it does deal with topical issues and is one that children can enjoy as well as adults or both together. I wouldn’t be surprised if Leaf is (predictably) over praised by the critics, yes it is lovingly drawn and well presented but the overall story is – whilst being pleasant with some good ideas – ultimately lacking in real impact or enough depth to satisfy and was a little bit predictable towards the end as well.