There’s nothing like a good quest to drive a graphic novel, and the central plot in Joey Weiser’s The Ride Home (AdHouse Books) serves admirably. Nodo is a van gnome, happily occupying a family’s broken-down wheels until a fateful day when they take the cat to the vet. He escapes the keyed-up feline only to find himself lost and homeless in an urban landscape.
As in all stories of this type, he makes friends, foes and stumbles across the possibility of romance during his search for his misplaced home. Weiser populates the urban landscape with repurposed fantasy figures who’ve found their own niches in a modern setting. There’s a river dragon who’s relocated to run the city’s sewer system. A group of gnomes have set up housekeeping in the park and are appalled at Nodo’s modern ideas of habitation (and his hat), offering the sure-to-be-irresistible prospect of “righteous twelve-hour work days, and gnomish tradition.” Then there are the hungry junkyard trolls.
But there’s also Flora, a spunky gnome who lives in a station wagon. She offers Nodo shelter and assistance while he hunts down his red van, patching him up when his quest goes astray.
You don’t need a map to see where it’s all going, but Weiser is generous with wit and warmth, keeping the familiar from becoming stale and sprinkling in unexpected twists and turns. He resists the urge to overstate his story’s morals, letting them unfold in a cheerful, episodic fashion. It’s an extremely friendly book, but it never overdoses on sentiment or cuteness.
Weiser has got a clean, appealing style of illustration, focusing on charming character design and some exciting set pieces. My favorite intersection of both is probably the one involving a helpful herd of cows with a keen ear for pathos. (Just trust me on this one.)
While Weiser has several mini-comics under his belt and has contributed to some high-profile anthologies like the Flight books, The Ride Home seems to be his first full-length graphic novel. It’s an extremely accomplished debut, and more importantly, it’s an awful lot of fun.
(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)