Cast No Shadow by Nick Tapalansky & Anissa Espinosa
Cast No Shadow, written by Nick Tapalansky and illustrated by Anissa Espinosa, is a mostly muddled graphic story that mixes the paranormal, teen romance/angst, and coming of age in a blend that never really coheres.
Greg Shepard is a boy born without a shadow in a small town whose mayor regularly tries to rejuvenate the town via a string of cheap tourist-trap draws (The World’s Biggest fill-in-the-blank). Being without a shadow is the least of his issues though: his mother died when he was young, his father has a new girlfriend (Ruth) whom Greg refuses to engage with, he’s regularly annoyed by the mayor’s son, and adding insult to injury, his best friend Layla is dating said annoyance. When he and Layla visit the town’s abandoned and decrepit mansion, Greg meets Eleanor, the ghost of a former resident whom only Greg can see, and who is trapped in the house she haunts. As some of Greg’s life spirals into more misery and some is brightened by the budding romance with a dead girl, his missing shadow suddenly appears as a chaotic, destructive force acting out Greg’s darker feelings/impulses.
As I wrote the summary I realized that I was thinking this sounds pretty good. Unfortunately, it’s in the execution, not the premise, that things fall short. The lack of Greg’s shadow is important for its later arrival, but the absence is mostly oddly unremarked upon otherwise. I’m never a fan of insta-love, and that problem is exacerbated when half the love is dead. The shadow as unrestrained id is a nice idea, but it’s never clear why it appears now and it becomes far too cartoony too quickly. Other elements also happen too fast or with little explanation—Greg’s changing relationship with his stepmother, Layla’s with the stereotypical annoying jock, everyone sort of just nodding along with the “oh, a crazy giant dangerous shadow is wreaking havoc on all of us” concept, and more. There’s little development and little fluidity and too many characters are presented too flatly. An added narration and clunky start don’t help with regard to clarity or flow.
On the positive side, there is a strong sense of emotionality in places, such as Greg’s sense of loss with his mother’s death, but this subtle, poignant note is outweighed by the more cartoonish aspects. Another plus is the diversity of ethnicity and body type, conveyed clearly by Espinosa’s simple black and white art. Otherwise the art was hit and miss for me, at times I quite liked its soft edges and greyscale tone and other times my reaction was less positive, though I’d say art appreciation in graphics is more subjective than story/text, so I’ll leave readers to look at the images and decide for themselves. Although Cast No Shadow has its positive elements as noted, they’re unfortunately outweighed by the negatives, making it a non-recommendation from me.