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Rabbit, The [Book Review]

Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland has proved to be the inspiration for many artists of various stripes over the years. There's something about this particular tale that has proved to be a spark for the creation of many novels, films, games and series. Numerous comics too have taken Alice's adventures and spun them in to anything from straight adaptations to stories that bear only the loosest resemblance to the original.

The Rabbit is peppered with quotes from Carol and it's easy to see how its story connects somewhat with that of Alice. Yet, the titular bunny (the brilliantly named Craig) is a very different critter from Carol's white rabbit- and not just because he shows no sign of having his predecessor's poor time-keeping.

Written and illustrated by Rachael Smith, The Rabbit is very much it's own thing- in a most wonderful way. It follows two young runaways, Eleanor and her younger sister Kathy. It's never quite explained exactly what they are running from, although allusions are made to the fact of something happening with their mum. Whether she passed away, left or something else, Smith never actually spells it out, and it's a great example of the subtle storytelling used here. It'd be easy to use such a plot device for an easy piece of emotional manipulation. Here though, it doesn't really matter if what they are running away from is serious or trivial- it's serious to them, and that's enough.

Craig comes into the story when Kathy accidentally injures him. Racked by guilt, she insists on looking after him. But it quickly becomes clear that he's no normal bunny rabbit. Not only can he talk, but he grows from a pint-sized ball of fuzz to a towering beast with a taste for gin. From there, events take a turn for the more sinister.

Smith artfully weaves in the fantasy elements with the mundane. Childhood games are depicted as full-blooded fantasy worlds, brilliantly capturing how real they can seem in children's minds. As a result, it's never quite clear if what happens with Craig is really happening or just part of their imagination. Arguably though, this only makes it all the more effective.

But the world The Rabbit inhabits is a believable one. One that we can all recognise filled with characters that we can identify with. It's a similar mixing of the fantastical and the mundane that has been so effectively mined by such filmmakers as Miyazaki and Tomm Moore. This story feels very much in that vein.

It's this grounding in reality that makes The Rabbit so effective. The way the sisters are depicted, and their relationships- both with each other and other kids- has a real truth to it. It's sweet without being sugar-coated. As a coming-of-age tale it has a distinctly timeless quality to it, that will bring on nostalgic feelings and transport readers back to childhood.  It's all incredibly British too (specifically Northern English) and it's not that often you get to see charming phrases such as "knob-head" and 'div' in graphic novel form.

Another strength is that it has the courage in its convictions to keep its story small. Not every plot has to be epic in scale with world-threatening stakes. Instead this is a beautifully down-to-earth small-scale tale, where the stakes are believable and the conclusion emotionally satisfying.

The art is just gorgeous, with a style that perfectly suits the tone of the material.  It's neither too cartoony nor overly serious so it's wonderfully versatile. The story blends comedy with more serious parts and Smith's style works just as well in either case. The use of frequent splash pages or frames that take up whole pages really allows you to really take the artwork in too, and shows it off to it's best.

The Rabbit is a brilliant piece of work from beginning to end. It's a surprising one too, and not quite what it first appears to be. It's not hard to see why it has scored a nomination for Best Book at the British Comic Awards.  Artistically and in terms of storytelling this is first-rate stuff that will delight your eyes, warm your heart and nourish your soul.

Highly Recommended. 

THE RABBIT by RACHAEL SMITH  is now available from Avery Hill Publishing