Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Graphic Novels of Note: I Kill Giants

I Kill Giants, written by Joe Kelly and drawn by JM Ken Niimura, tells the story of Barbara, a fifth-grader who wears rabbit ears and carries a heart-shaped purse named Coveleski. She lives with her brother and an older sister who takes care of them both. And she kills giants.
Barbara doesn’t have many friends, and the school psychologist takes a special interest in her. But not just because of her avowed giant killing. Something has happened to Barbara, something so upsetting that she refuses to talk about it.

Rather than drawing excitement from the question of whether Barbara’s giants are real, the true tension comes from the slow revelation of the devastating real-life tragedy that Barbara is escaping by subsuming herself in fantasy. And the reader doesn’t get to find out what it is until Barbara is ready to admit it to herself.

Because the focus is on Barbara’s reality, I Kill Giants is able to walk a delicate line, never overtly saying that the adults are wrong to doubt Barbara’s claims, never undercutting Barbara by presenting her giants as the result of an overactive imagination. The challenges Barbara faces are real. Just because others choose not to see them as giants doesn’t mean that Barbara can’t.

Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura present a stunning vision of Barbara’s reality that allows readers to both simultaneously believe wholeheartedly in Barbara’s version of the truth and to see the metaphor behind it. Achieving that balance is almost as incredible a feat as killing a giant.

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