The Storm in the Barn
by Matt Phelan
An American fairy tale set during the Great Depression, The Storm in the Barn follows the adventures of young Jack (there’s always a Jack in these tales) Clark as he and his family struggle to survive in the gritty Dust Bowl. Jack is picked on by bullies when he goes into town. Want and illness plague his family. But Jack has seen a strange thing; a mysterious, cloaked figure with a face ‘like rain’ is hiding in an abandoned barn. When he tries to share what he’s seen, his father decides that Jack suffers from dust dementia and brushes him off. But Jack can sense that this mysterious being is the key to freeing his family and their town from the cruel grip of the drought, so he sets off on his own to confront the creature that calls itself the Storm King…
The art in this graphic novel is just fantastic. Like the Kansas pictured in The Wizard of Oz, given a nod by Phelan throughout the story as Jack’s sister reads a book from the series to her brother, this world is monochrome and lifeless. The only colorful pages exist in the memory of Jack’s mother, as she tells her children of the Kansas of her childhood, when crops grew and everyone was happy. Everything else is rendered in muted shades of brown, grey and the weary blue of worn denim. It is a depressed palette, perfect for the mood of Jack’s town.
I call the story a fairy tale, but it’s also a fairly realistic portrayal of life in the Dirty Thirties. ‘Dust pneumonia’ was a real affliction for many living in the Dust Bowl, as the great dust storms filled young lungs with dust that couldn’t be coughed out. Brutal jackrabbit drives, in which rabbits were rounded up and slaughtered, were an ugly and controversial community event. Matt Phelan really brought these stories to life in an accessible way that both young and older readers can appreciate.
I would never have thought this was Matt Phelan’s first graphic novel. It’s a beautiful work, with great art and an entertaining and poignant story. Be sure to check it out!
To read more about The Storm in the Barn, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.