As with all adaptations, I was facing a large bit of doubt and hesitance when I learned that Dark Horse was releasing this book. I first read it when I was young, in a 1993 publication of Terri Windling’s Snow White, Blood Red. I was born that year, so, I was a little late to the party. Nonetheless, the original version stunned me with a profound question of self-identity and the existential crisis of “who am I and why am I here?” “Troll Bridge” is a story that sticks with you. I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan, so most of his work does; but “Troll Bridge” being published as a children’s fairy tale made it stick out as a little (I use that term lightly) different than the usual princess story.
“Troll Bridge” is about a boy, Jack, growing up. The troll is simply interested in eating Jack’s life. He meets the troll when he is a child, but says that he has not experienced life and will come back after some time. He does, and again wants to put off his life being eaten. Finally, when Jack is an adult and has gone through a Hell of a lot, the troll eats his life. But he doesn’t kill him, no—that would be a pleasure in comparison to the exchange. Yeah, exchange. The troll’s intangible being goes into Jack’s body, and vice versa. Thus, Jack is forced into the troll’s body, left to live the rest of his days under a bridge.
This story brings up a lot of different concepts, including travel, myth, the human soul, trust, growing up, betrayal, loss, missed opportunities, magic, and even more. Neil Gaiman has never been known for writing a simple script, no, he goes above and beyond the typical narrative. He can write a linear storyline, of course, but within that storyline we find all sorts of chaos—leading up to a final, beautiful conclusion. But this adaptation isn’t about the story as much as it is about the artwork.
Colleen Doran has worked with many famous writers in the past, and is no stranger to the abstract stylings of Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. Her most notable works include The Sandman, Wonder Woman, Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, The Vampire Diaries, Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and finally her space opera series, A Distant Soil. Needless to say, she is no stranger to illustration, and knows Gaiman’s work well.
Doran does something really clever in this book. Her artwork changes as Jack does. To let the protagonist control the aesthetic of the book is a risky move, but it’s one that definitely pays off. At the beginning of the book, Jack and his environment are in full color. The entire world is animated and depicted in vibrant detail. He is a child, so we see his wild imagination on the page—from fairies to ghosts and witches. As for the troll, he is shown as astoundingly big and extremely intimidating.
As Jack matures into adolescence, the artwork gets a lot softer. There are no solid lines, and his still colorful world is in an extremely soft lens for us to see. We see most of this with the tones of both nostalgia and regret. When he meets the troll this time, he is threatened. He was afraid as a child, sure, but he outsmarted the troll. He barely gets away with it again this time. From here, one of Jack’s eyes becomes dark, and so does the artwork.
As Jack makes his way into adulthood, Doran’s art turns dark, grey, lifeless, dull, and even boring. His childhood is a distant memory, nearly unrecognizable. There isn’t even any nostalgia. As Gaiman’s tone shifts to sad and lonely, Doran’s artwork so clearly reflects the lifelessness with which Jack is simply existing—not living. Here, the troll is as tall as him. It is no longer a danger, so Jack accepts it—maybe even wants it—when the troll eats his life. And although he is upset at the troll life he now lives, he is content having left his human life behind, because he had nothing going for him.
Gaiman writes of the horror that is growing up, and Doran illustrates it. Together, it’s almost scary to see how much we change. Gaiman is a writer who won’t let you put down his books without having your mind blown, and Doran has hopped on board. Even Todd Klein’s lettering helps. The troll’s voice is so distinctly shaped differently than the humans’ and the caption boxes.
This story is one that I haven’t stopped recommending since I was young, and I never will. But now, I have a different version to recommend. Doran’s take on this story will leave you dumbfounded with emotion and deep thought. If you’re a Gaiman fan, this absolutely has to be in your library. If you aren’t, this short story might change that. Either way, check it out at your local comic book shop and let us know what you think.
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by: Colleen Doran