Former Tharg, David Bishop and artist Ruairí Coleman (along with Alex Assan on colouring and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou on lettering) have created an unusual project with Dani’s Toys. On the surface, you might think a story about youngsters Dani and Helena, meeting as children – and forming a bond that lasts into their young adulthood, despite their vastly different social status isn’t that unusual.
And of course, it isn’t, but context is all – and here, our young characters are living in 1930s and 40s Nazi Germany. We meet Dani first, a bright, outgoing, friendly and inventive youngster, despite health issues (we first meet the character in a sanatorium, a leg brace hinting at them being a victim of the then-common disease, polio.
(Those of a certain age may doubtless recall seeing those leg braces on small charity collection statues back in the day).
Dani’s mother brings a birthday present, a box of mechanical parts – a sort of early Meccano set – that Dani can fashion into whatever the youngster’s imagination can inspire. Coleman’s art captures that moment of innocent childhood wonder and delight and joy perfectly as the youngster opens the present, declaring “Treasure!”
Dani has a natural aptitude for mechanical creation and invention, which this thoughtful gift encourages.
It also brings Dani into contact with another hospital resident, normally kept in seclusion, Helena, the daughter of Herr Volk, a wealthy and overbearing industrialist, who is less than happy with the idea of the two becoming friends.
I’m not going to explore too much more of the story here, as the guys are still considering their options with it – approach a publisher, self-publish, go down the Kickstarter route (any publishers reading this who are interested should get in touch with Bishop and Coleman). But I did want to flag it up here for your attention, partly because David was kind enough to let me have a read of the whole thing (which I thought balanced two very contrasting elements – the innocent friendship/love and simple, pure joy it brings against the growing violence and hatred of the Third Reich era), and partly because David has been tweeting some of the panels online, which you can see in a Twitter thread here.
It’s far too interesting a project to be left in limbo, and I hope a way is found to publish it in the near future. The sweetness of the scenes between the youngsters is deeply touching without being saccharine, and Coleman’s art beautifully expresses this in Helena and Dani’s expressions when they are around one another. This stands against the industrial grimness of the factory and the wartime conditions, with some lovely touches along the way, such as giving some scenes (Helena and her father seen at an odd angle from a window, for example) a period-appropriate Expressionist touch. It’s intriguing work and deserves a chance in front of a wider readership.