Pearl of the Sea by Anthony Silverston, Rafaella Delle Donne and Willem Samuel. Produced by Triggerfish Animation Studios. (Catalyst Press) 

Guest reviewed by Nancy Richards, freelance journalist.

A South African graphic novel for ages 10+


Comic book love
Confession: I love comics. I grew up with them – lucky me. I love the speech bubbles, the Eeks, gasps, grrs and vvvvrrrrs – I totally love the illustrations and especially love the expressive eyebrows.  I love it that there are an increasing number of ‘graphic novels’ being released, or as you might say ‘comic books’.  Though specialists are better placed to explain the distinction.
Equally I’m a sucker for animated films – for some of us childhood tastes just don’t grow up.
So I fell upon Pearl of the Sea. It’s a three-person triumph – Anthony Silverston, Rafaella Delle Donne and Willem Samuel – the last as I understand it being responsible for the illustrations. But it takes a village, they say – and it feels like this team had a lot of fun diving into the deep with young Pearl who, since her mother left, spends way too much time fishing in the ocean to help her father pay the bills. Understandably, she’s a bit of a loner – but everything changes when she meets a sea monster named Otto and gets mixed up with a bunch of perlemoen poachers. Yikes!
Silence speaks a thousand words
For the first few spreads, all in shimmering shades of aquamarine, not a word is ‘spoken’ reflecting the underwater silence. And there is, dare I say it, a hint of a Titanic moment in a silhouetted shipwreck. But things change hue above sea level – blood reds on board the boat, browns for the school room – the colouring tells you as much about the story as the minimal dialogue. ‘This might hurt a bit,’ Pearl tells the monster.
With unruly spiked hair, a fisherman’s dress sense and skinny legs, Pearl is kind of androgynous (therein lies a sub story) – taking after her rather appealing and caring six-o’clock-shadowed dad. Her one-eyed pup Moby takes a supporting role in the manner of Tintin’s Snowy. Aarf.  And monster Otto, just FYI, turns out to be a bit of a softie – and a hero.
Is it literature?
I couldn’t argue for the literary merits or otherwise of graphic novels – though they are surely an valid option to ‘reading for meaning’ – but what a wonderful way to tell quite a real (well, mostly) local and relevant story. One that would certainly engage, entertain and educate young readers without being patronising – and possibly even inspire them to pick up pens or paints themselves.
AGE: There’s no recommended reading age on Pearl as far as I can see – so all generations can enjoy it, alone or together – especially the eyebrows. Yaaay!

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