Writer & Letterer: Eric Grissom
Illustrator & Colorist: Will Perkins
Designer: Eric Grissom with Brennan Thome
Editor: Shantel Larocque
Publisher: Dark Horse
WHAT IS IT?
A coming-of-age story about a young goblin’s quest to avenge his parents and find his place in the world.
Recast Tintin and Snowy from the Adventures of Tintin as a goblin and a wolf named Fish-breath and set them on a dangerous Odyssey-like journey through a young-reader-friendly version of Middle-Earth.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Rikt, a young goblin, has just begun to learn about his people’s way of life when his parents are tragically murdered by a bloodthirsty human warrior.
This tragedy propels the adolescent Rikt out of his sheltered home in the forest onto a life-changing path of self-discovery and adventure. In Rikt's first test of character, he stumbles upon two human thieves with a fresh loot of goblin artifacts and a caged white wolf. Risking life and limb, Rikt frees the wolf and earns himself a life-long companion that—due to hygiene issues—he names Fish-breath.
Rikt begins his journey set on vengeance, but he's just a kid in a big new world. Through encounters with deceitful fairies, an all-knowing tree spirit, toad warriors and a minotaur, he starts to grow up and discover his own sense of right and wrong. But what will Rikt do when he finds the human warrior that murdered his parents? Is he strong enough to defeat him? Will Rikt fulfill his quest for vengeance?
Writer Eric Grissom convincingly subverts the basic fantasy trope of a human hero cast against monstrous "creatures of the dark" (think: goblins, orcs, dragons) by turning this relationship upside down: in Goblin, it's the white guy with the crown that's the monster and the yellow-eyed goblin that's the hopeful hero.
Artist Will Perkins' exceptional character work grounds and connects the emotional swings of the big-eared, pointy-nosed Rikt to the reader: his frustrations, loss and loneliness, exuberance and compassion are all expertly rendered through Rikt on every panel and page, helpfully guiding young readers through the character's arc.
Perkins also serves as the colorist, filling this grand and fantastical world with countless greens to cover its never-ending forests, shimmering blue waterfalls, moody dimly-lit swamps, and the glowing green and yellow lights of magic.
Grissom's lettering in the book is exceptionally clean and clear, making it easy for readers of any age to follow. Tails and balloons are all rendered without outlines, helping them float above the art and nearly pop off the page. Magical creatures get their own color balloons (pink and purple for fairies, black for the tree spirit), which helps alert the reader that Rikt (white balloons) is no longer talking.
Goblin's archetypal reversal provides a powerful moral for young and adult readers alike: we should all be defined by our actions and hearts, not by how we look or how society views us.
The world Grissom and Perkins have created is full of depth, detail and immersive wonder, but at the same time, the story and panels are never overly crowded with actions or plot points. This is a clearly told and well-paced comic that's a straightforward read for young readers. It strikes a beautiful balance between what's shown on the page and what's left for the reader to fill in with their imagination—truly the secret sauce of comics.
Every chapter page is paired with a woodcut-like print of trees, which begin in Chapter 1 as a small sapling and grow into a forest by Chapter 10. The book ends with an image of freshly chopped trunks (Chapter 11, "The Cost of War") followed by another sapling in the epilogue, visually echoing the book's themes of growth, loss, and second chances.
Fish-breath's comic relief is expertly sprinkled throughout the story. He also has arguably one of the very best dog names in comic book history, maybe only second to Lucky the pizza dog.
Spoiler Alert: When Fish-breath reappears full-grown at the end of the comic and Rikt rides him like a horse, my child yelped with joy. The scene feels like a playful reimagining of the sinister wolf-riding orcs from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.
Goblin is a rewarding reread. Frequent references to earlier plot points along with a hand-drawn map of "The Realm of Evonia" allow you to retrace Rikt's journey from start to finish, uncovering new details on second and third passes.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Content Warning: A deer is shot and killed with an arrow and Rikt's parents are murdered all in the first 20 pages of the book. It's frustrating how many kids stories begin with heart-wrenching loss (thanks Bambi), but it is there for a reason: it's a powerful plot device. In Goblin, the violence is thankfully almost entirely off-panel and nothing here feels as scary as the parent-killing stampede in The Lion King or the parent-chomping barracuda in Finding Nemo. But it still makes for a rough start.
Reader Age: The recommended reader age is 10+, but I read it to my 6-year-old before bedtime and he thoroughly enjoyed it without any scares or difficulty falling asleep. Kids under 10 may need parental supervision and/or help reading.
Goblins, minotaurs, fairies, and talking trees are all creations picked from other stories and authors. It seems like a missed opportunity to have fun with an original fantastical creature. But then again, maybe using a familiar cast is the point? Grissom's archetypal deconstruction may not have worked as well with a new cast of characters.
Spoiler Alert: The epilogue is set 100 years after the conclusion of the story, where Rikt and his wolf are now storied heroes passed down to new generations of children in bedtime tales. This is a fun rewriting of history within the story, but what's confusing is the very last panel in which we see Rikt and Fish-breath under the night sky. Are we to believe goblins live to over a hundred? Or is this Rikt Jr and Fish-breath Jr? The young sapling clearly placed in the foreground may suggest the latter.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
It's no easy feat to simultaneously entertain and enthrall a young reader while teaching a valuable life lesson, but Goblin's team of comic creators—Eric Grissom and Will Perkins—have put out a book that accomplishes all of that with heart and purpose.
Goblin reads like a modern riff on David and Goliath, where humans are the heavily-favored Goliaths: monsters that cause war and destruction, that burn and chop down forests and kill innocent creatures in vain quests for glory. While the underdog hero—the David—is a small, toothy, green goblin that's chosen by the forest as its' champion through trials of heart, wit, and selflessness.
It's what we do and what's in our heart that matters—and that can change the world for the better. What we look like and how society views us? That's irrelevant, teaches Goblin.
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All Goblin characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Eric Grissom, Will Perkins, or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED