Long before Graphix...
From his website, Avi had this to say about comic books and the creation of his own long-form comic book:
"When I was a boy I loved comic books. I read them by the ton. (I had to read the scary ones outside on the front steps. My mother would not let them in the house. When I had fantasy story that was giving me problems, I remembered comic books and began to think I could tell my tale best that way. It's something I learn over and over again, every tale has its own way of telling.
Working with skilled artist Brian Floca, we had great fun--and much hard work--putting it all together. It was wonderfully exciting to do such a book--but as I learned--very difficult. You can't just read CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF DARK, you have to look at the pictures. Nor can you just look at the pictures--you have to read the book. That was not easy to achieve."
CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF DARK has notes of Lois Lowry's The Giver as seen through Will Eisner's eyes. Set in an alternate version of Manhattan, a race of otherworldly beings known as the Kurbs have allowed the island to be inhabited only if a yearly ritual is performed that acknowledges their absolute rule. If the ritual isn't performed, Manhattan will be plunged into a deep freeze killing everyone who lives there. The ritual involves placing a magical subway token in its proper place by noon on December 21st -- and everyone is after the missing token including Sarah, the girl whose destiny is to place the token in its proper place and Mr. Underton who becomes madly obsessed with the Kurbs' power to restore his sight.
The first part of the book is a hybrid of prose and sequential art and explains a lot of the backstory of the Kurbs and how Mr. Underton came to become the madman that he is for the duration of the book. It's one of the only times where I've seen this mix work, where exposition is in prose but scenes with dialogue or visuals best illustrated rather than described are in comics.
CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF DARK works because of Avi's strong prose and high concept story but it's very apparent that the artwork here is secondary. There's a lot of places where exposition boxes are used heavily instead of letting the art tell the story. The illustration has a rough, unpolished quality to it, which reminds me of the work of Jessica Abel or Dylan Horrocks. Not to say it's bad, Floca creates some really great visuals like the design of Mr. Underton in his black trenchcoat commanding a flock of pigeons, but it does seem to take a bit of a backseat to the dialogue and exposition.
However, the sheer fact that a Newbery author has written a graphic novel (in 1993!)is definitely a good thing. Librarians should endeavor to add this book to their children's graphic novel collection.