The chaotic lines and complementary duotone colours of Anya Davidson’s Dying Wizard reflect the same fuzziness and confusion that I felt about a lot of the fairy tales that I read during my childhood. I was not blessed with a perfect imagination or a preternatural understanding of words that I’d never heard before. I also liked to read books of fairy tales (like Idries Shah’s World Tales) that were above my reading level. This all led to a jumble of images in my head that I couldn’t quite clarify.
Reading Dying Wizard felt like being that child again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this little 12-page book (okay, I admit, I often lose count of how many times I’ve read graphic short stories, and I’ll probably be telling you that a lot in this blog), and I still find it difficult to hold the details in my mind. The general feeling of the images yes, definitely, that has stayed in my mind. Or maybe more in my heart, as you’ll see. But not details that aren’t in fact there in amongst Davidson’s sketchy lines.
The cover of Dying Wizard isn’t blurry, but the orange and blue fill colours don’t stay within the lines, lending the image an unpolished look. Wrinkles in the old wizard’s face are depicted with thick blue lines that don’t allow for much detail, but there’s enough to see that he is tired, exhausted. He is dying. This image, at least, is clearer than my childhood reading memories, and it’s what drew me to this comic. Flipping the small book over, I was even more intrigued by the monkey on the back. Who is this naked monkey? (Can monkeys even be naked? Reply in the comments with your answer, and I’ll send my poll to a scientist for use in a study. JK. But do answer; I’m curious what you guys think.)
The first few panels affected me in a way similar to those memories of childhood stories, but they held a tinge of the inevitable truth that is distinctly adult: the knowledge that pain is unavoidable. When Buttons the monkey tries to awaken the old wizard, the wizard says, “I’m dying, Buttons. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.” (Go wizard!) But Buttons is in denial: “Papa needs to wake up. Wake up, Papa! Wake up, Papa!” (Aw, now I feel so sad for Buttons.) The third companion, a bird named Birdie, silently watches. I was torn. There was a part of me that just wanted the wizard to get up and soothe Buttons—whom we already assume is a son-figure—and there was a part of me that just wanted Buttons to shut up and let the wizard die in peace. Spoiler: the comic never lets me reconcile these feelings.
Davidson’s seemingly sketched, perhaps scribbled, drawings had a bigger impact on me than I expected. I was sucked into the relationship between the wizard and Buttons not only through their conversation, but through the familiarity I developed with their facial expressions. Buttons’ face alternated between sad confusion and smiling expectation; the wizard always looked tired. I felt for both of them, but I was most affected by this truth bomb that the wizard drops right on Buttons’ head:
“It’s a hard truth that in order for some to be happy, others must always suffer.”
Aw, Davidson. I know the title is Dying Wizard, but couldn’t there at least have been a happy ending? Well, I guess in a way there was (read the book to find out how!), but it’s a more realistically happy ending than I was expecting. In the end, it was a more emotionally affective comic than I was expecting, too, and that made me like it even more.