WARS IN TOYLAND (ONI Press hardcover 106 pages, $19.99) Created by Joe Harris and Adam Pollina. Finishes by Brent McCarthy. Colored by Nolan Woodard. Lettered by Jared M. Jones.
There is a double page single panel of art in this deluxe graphic novel that says it all: elementary school level Matthew, still clad in superhero pajamas and sprawled across the bedroom floor, with a giant wood toy box wide open . All his toys surround him, dominated by those familiar green army men and organized into battle groups with various vehicles and stuffed animals joining in. The look of excited contentment on Matthew’s face is priceless.
Admittedly inspired by the classic BABES IN TOYLAND, the original graphic novel WARS IN TOYLAND is a darker look at the realm of Toyland under the rule of a large stitched-up and mean-spirited teddy bear named Roxbury.
This is my first exposure to a hardcover offering from ONI PRESS, and the results are very impressive. This is a solid presentation under sturdy binding and covers with gorgeous art, inks and colors. It’s a beautiful work of art and would make a fine gift for all ages, from those young enough to be read to through middle school and even older, especially for anyone who yearns for those early days of childhood innocence when playtime was king.
On the surface level, WARS IN TOYLAND details what happens to young Matthew after he is carried into Toyland by his own toy soldiers via the transportation device of his own wooden toy box. He learns that his older brother and constant playtime companion Alex disappeared the same way and is now a prisoner of teddy Roxbury. Matthew’s toy soldiers instantly recognize his leadership and decision-making abilities (“my Captain”) and join him in attempts to rescue his brother and return to warmer confines at home.
Divided into three chapters that offer conflict/problem, action/consequences, and finally resolution the story moves forward quickly in a very engaging and entertaining fashion. It’s worth proceeding slowly in order to fully appreciate the fine images in the panels. The underlying themes deal with the wonders of playful innocence, loyalty, courage, the loss of innocence, the transition to more adult responsibilities, and the acceptance of same.
“Ever since I was a kid watching LAUREL & HARDY on Thanksgiving Day, my demented thoughts have turned to wooden soldiers making war on one another,” commented author Harris on the Oni Press website. (Editor’s note: Harris is referring to the classic black & white 1934 musical film “Laurel & Hardy in Toyland” a.k.a. “March Of The Wooden Soldiers.” I was suitably impressed and touched by the later “Babes In Toyland” from Walt Disney studios in 1961.) “WARS IN TOYLAND is a story we’ve been looking to tell for a long, long time. It’s a dark fantasy about the things we throw away, the things we can’t let go of and growing up, in a broad sense, even though it really sucks sometimes.” (Editor’s Note: I agree. Sometimes it really sucks to grow up. But, on the other hand . . . . .)
“WARS IN TOYLAND is as close to my heart as any story I have ever drawn,” added Pollina. “As a young child I would spend hours dividing my toys into armies and leading them in some glorious battle. This graphic novel is heavily inspired by those childhood memories. I know I feel I’m still finding the courage to face the challenges in my life and win the battles ahead of me. And this book is an expression of that struggle.”