Of the many classics of children’s literature, few have lent themselves to as much psycho-social metaphor as J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish’s The Wendy Project (Super Genius/Papercutz) is the latest work to cast a light on Barrie’s creation, and to these eyes, it is one of the most emotionally successful.
Packaged like a schoolgirl’s black notebook, Project tells the story of Wendy Davies, 16-year-old girl and the driver in a devastating auto accident. Crashing into a lake with her two brothers, Wendy wakes in a hospital to discover her youngest brother Michael’s body has not been found while middle brother John has retreated into muteness. Suffering from this trauma and the recurrent vision of her brother being carried into the clouds by a Pan-like silhouette, Wendy is sent to a therapist who gives her a notebook in which to draw “whatever you can’t say out loud.”
Resistant at first, Wendy tries to cast away the journal, only to find it mysteriously returned to her each time. Osborne and Fish don’t differentiate in the book between those moments that are real life experiences, journal entries or Wendy’s imaginative attempts to manage her grief through fantasy. As we watch her venture back into school and family life, many of the figures in both briefly take the shape of characters from Barrie’s work. A classmate/budding crush named Eben Peters takes on the form of Peter Pan; a high school flirt resembles Tinkerbell; a judgmental cop looks like Captain Hook. The first part of Project is primarily rendered by artist Fish in sepia tones, with occasional splashes of color to punctuate our heroine’s emotions and visions. Second part, a full-blown visit to Neverland, gets drawn in full color.
What makes this all work is writer Osborne’s honest understanding of personal bereavement and the way the world can look to someone suffering from depression. Fish’s art is fully suited to the work of a teenager’s journaling – sketchy at times but always attuned to the emotions of its figures. Her use of color is especially effective, both when she dabs it into another colorless scene or cuts loose in Neverland.
Originally published in four issues by Emet Comics, an LA-based publisher dedicated to telling stories created by women with strong female protagonists, The Wendy Project proves both poignant and inspiring: an intelligent graphic tale that takes the core of Barrie’s coming of age fantasy and molds it into a resonant recreation of the stages of grief. It makes an impressive introduction to the woman-centered Emet Comics line.