The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor (text), Michael Wyatt (illustrations), and Alison Kooistra (adaptation)
This graphic novel The Night Wanderer is an adaptation by Alison Kooistra of Drew Hayden Taylor’s novel The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel. Since it’s a vampire novel — a genre of which I’ve about had my fill — I almost passed it by. But I was very interested in the Native American angle. I’m glad I picked this up — the book is only using the vampire genre to tell a Native American tale and make us look at an all-too-familiar tale in a new light. In other words, the Native American element isn’t added to come up with just another vampire story. The vampire story is secondary, and that’s the real strength of the comic book.
The story opens with the vampire of the story — a very healthy, fit Native American man with long black hair — standing on the rocky shores of Ireland. We hear his thoughts: “In more than three hundred years, this is the closest I’ve come to North America. To Home.” That drew me in fairly quickly, because this vampire is introduced not as violent but as contemplative and regretful for his past: “The Wawa-Tei are calling me to return. It’s time to deal with who I used to be. And with the monster I’ve become.”
My only fear in turning the page was that the contemplative mood would be broken by violent scenes and bad, derivative writing. But I was pleasantly surprised by The Night Wanderer: The dominant mood of the book remains quiet and thoughtful, a study of characters, and the writing is solid. In fact, the drama, the most dynamic scenes, usually come from the teenager in the story, our other main character. And our vampire is heading her way.
This young Native American teenage girl — oddly named Tiffany — is not happy: In fact, she is angry — with her mother, father, and boyfriend. She lives with her father and grandmother, and as the story opens, our heroine is not getting along with her father, largely because she blames him for her mother’s having left them to be with a white man. More angry than thoughtful, Tiffany doesn’t realize that she is hypocritical in her anger at her mother, particularly for being with a white man while she herself is dating a white boy in town and neglecting her life-long Native American friends to go to parties where she is ignored not only by her boyfriend’s friends, but also by her boyfriend himself, who seems incapable of acting naturally around both “native” girlfriend and “white” friends. Tiffany, however, is rightfully angry that he mainly wants to spend time alone with her instead of being seen in public together. If, like me, you enjoy a good coming-of-age story, this aspect of the graphic novel is one of the ways that The Night Wanderer is more than just another vampire story.
Tiffany finally gets the news that sends her over the edge into self-righteous anger. She must give up her room and move into the basement because her father needs to take in a boarder for financial reasons. And, of course, we know who that boarder is: Pierre L’Errant, our wayward, morose vampire.
Ultimately, the book is about Pierre and Tiffany each facing a private crisis that they aren’t comfortable telling each other about, but through the course of the story, each of them finds a certain resolution that is satisfying to them and to us as readers. The Night Wanderer is a well-crafted tale.
There isn’t much violence, and I certainly enjoy a vampire book that isn’t about violence, and what little there is doesn’t seem very graphic since the book is in black-and-white. Some of my favorite passages in the book are the flashbacks in which we get to see the young Pierre remembering what the land around him used to look like before he left his home and family over 300 years ago.
I think the only potential weakness of the book is the art. It didn’t immediately appeal to me, and it’s still not my favorite comic visually, but as a means to tell the visual side of the tale, the art is certainly effective and communicates most of the nuances of the story quite well. I only wish the characters’ faces in certain scenes were less blocky and more subtly expressive. But overall, this comic is a rare one: A coming-of-age, Native American Gothic graphic novel. For this uniqueness alone, it’s probably worth picking up for many readers. I highly recommend it for a YA audience or anyone interested in Native American literature.
Note: Be careful not to confuse it with the prose-only version of the novel if you purchase via Amazon. I’ve tried to put in the correct link, but I think Amazon mixes up the reviews of the prose novel with the graphic novel version (which doesn’t come out until August 2014 from what I can tell). The problem seems to be that Amazon is not distinguishing between the two as separate products; instead, Amazon is listing the graphic novel as another buying option of the SAME item: Kindle, paperback, hardback, or graphic novel. I hope Amazon gets this problem fixed. I’ve already seen one complaint from somebody who accused a reviewer of putting his review in the wrong place when the problem seems to be on Amazon’s end.