In The Shadow Under the Leaf, a dog wanders into the Natural World in hopes of finding the life and freedom that was lost to domesticated animals thousands of years ago. Raised as a slave to humans, will Harry be accepted by the wild beasts of the forest? Or will he be be torn apart as a traitor?
The Shadow Under the Leaf
We don’t get to learn how Harry ends up in the forest, but it doesn’t matter. The young dog has found his way there at great risk to himself, seeking acceptance from his ancestors. Adam Kobetich paints a stunning story of this hunt for acceptance, beginning with the breathtaking image of a cougar perched atop a rocky mountain, surveying her evergreen domain. The contrast of the pale fur against the dark trees below is stunning, as is the way Kobetich creates symmetry amidst the varied shapes and colours of the landscape. The details in the cougar’s body are striking, from the ridges down the spine, to the tension in the one raised shoulder blade. It’s an image of stillness, and yet there’s a sense of pending motion. As if that tail is about to flick at any moment…
From here, the story moves for several pages through the forest, over mountains, across rivers as we meet Harry and watch him being watched by the cougar. No words interrupt the tranquility of the forest, even when the expected encounter eventually happens. At this point, details in the imagery slip away and instead Kobetich skillfully presses colour into the panels to reflect the fear Harry feels as he tries to escape, finds himself cornered, and turns to fight for his life.
Lettering comes into play when Harry is confronted by the predators of the forest. Wolves and bears are drawn with equal realism and detail throughout. Apart from their ability to speak, Kobetich isn’t giving us a cute animal Disney story. The movements and reactions of all the animals show that Kobetich has done his research when it comes to both animal anatomy and with their varied body language. What they have to say is almost unnecessary and sometimes intrusive because of the elaborate lettering choices, with specific colours and shapes, as well as hand-lettered fonts for each creature. Looping tails or sharp-edged snarling points dominate the pages as the forest animals speak their mind. Some are not so keen on Harry joining them, after his kind made the choice to go with the bi-peds, and, while the style of each creatures’ word bubbles does suit their personality and sentiments, they don’t blend as nicely as they could, overpowering the imagery in places.
Despite these minor misgivings, The Shadow Under the Leaf is a remarkable book that perfectly balances the magical blending of artwork and story. And I especially love stories that allow the imagery to do the work, especially when the imagery is as beautiful as it is here.