Three Shadows: haunting and dreamlike graphic novel of love, bravery and sacrifice

Today, I found a review copy of Cyril Pedrosa's Three Shadows in my PO Box, sent by First Second Books. I took a quick glance at the first page on my way out of the Mailboxes, Etc, and found myself still reading ten minutes later, having walked several blocks to the bus-stop. I just finished the book over lunch, and while I'm entirely sure that I enjoyed it, was moved by it even, I'm not sure that I understood it.

This is the story of Louis and Lise and their little son Joachim, peasants in a kind of Franco-Iberian no-place, somewhere in the Quixotic era of Cervantes, give or take a century. They live in a cottage in the woods and they live a sweet life that is marvellously evoked in just a few spare panels, drawn in a style that's halfway between Sergio Argones and Picasso's Don Quixote, emotive lines that are unabashedly broad and sentimental.

When three mysterious horsemen appear on the hill over the cottage, waking Joachim, Lise and Louis and scaring them into a nebulous, nauseous dread. The horsemen reappear day after day, terrifying and always just a little too far into the mist to be seen properly. After a visit to a seer in a nearby city suggests that the horsemen have come to take Joachim away, Louis resolves to run with his son, to go as far away as he can.

Thus begins the adventures of Joachim and Louis, over land and sea, through brushes with the noble and the enslaved, the horrible and the magical. The story, already saturated with allegory and symbolism, became so deep at this point that I couldn't entirely understand it, even as I was compelled to turn each page, letting the magic wash over me with the logic of a dream.

This is clearly a story about love and sacrifice, nobility and fearlessness, but how and why, I can't say. Pedrosa is a marvellous illustrator (he previously worked as an animator on the Disney versions of Hercules and the Hunchback of Notre Dame) and a strange and compelling storyteller.