In his latest book, Brecht Evens demonstrates an uncanny mastering of harmony between style and content. The illustrator’s thin washes of ink, allowing walls and background objects to cut through the character’s silhouettes, complements a narrative which is essentially about deception, transparency and shadowy realms. The story begins with a young girl named Christine, whom we meet on the day that her cat Lucy is put down. As her young mind attempts to cope with this spectre of death, out from her cupboard comes Panther, a shapeshifting feline apparition that spins tales of a netherworld called Pantherland.
Evens’ book would be worth reading just for his illustrations of Panther as he transforms himself to emphasize points and emotions, sometimes reduced to a darkened silhouette, at other times exploding with detail and stylization reminiscent of Maurice Sendak, George Grosz or Picasso. As the ink washes begin to muddy, a darker presence begins to emerge from within Panther, and his evasion of Christine’s questions and concerns become more concerning, as Christine turns further away from the outside world.
Panther unfolds with an innocence and simplicity that belies the sinister undertones of the story. Evens manages to display the wonder of the child’s imagination, while tackling the trauma of one’s first confrontation with mortality. Figures, shadows and objects overlap as the worlds of the living and the dead coalesce; the author’s lush narrative style allows us to marvel at these apparitions and fantasies, all the while seeing past them and reading the story beneath.