ROSE AND ISABEL/ CORA VOLUME ONE AND TWO
Written, Illustrated, and Published by: Ted Mathot
Reviewed by: Kristian Horn
I’d been wanting to review these books for a long time. When I was writing comic reviews for Ain’t It Cool News every once in a while I’d say that I was going to write up one of these books for the upcoming week’s column and inevitably something would come up where I’d have to put writing up reviews for Rose and Isabel or Cora on the backburner. For a long time I’ve considered these books to be tragically overlooked by the comics world at large and even more tragically overlooked by comic book fangirls as well. In my opinion Rose and Isabel and Cora are two comic books that exemplify the best that comic books have to offer and should be required reading for any female fan of comics out there. As a father of a young girl, these are two books that I plan on holding on to for her to read when she gets older.
Why hasn’t anyone out there really heard of Rose and Isabel or Cora? I honestly don’t know. I can only speculate that it’s because creator Ted Mathot really only sells his books through his own website and at conventions (You can purchase your own copies here). Mathot is apparently a storyboarding big wig at Pixar studios so obviously he’s got a lot on his plate so I can only imagine that these comics are very much the victim of the independent creator’s curse…which is that the books come out when they come out. Much like another one of my favorite comics of long ago, Herobear and the Kid, Mathot’s comics are sadly the victim of the fact that its creators have other projects that they must tend to before they can tackle their own personal projects. Truth to tell, a big reason that I’m posing this review is to see if I can get Mathot to finally release the very long delayed third installment of Cora.
So what are the books actually about? Well, Rose and Isabel is a tale of two very unique sisters raised in Virginia during the Civil War. When their brothers go off to fight in the conflict Rose and Isabel are left behind as many women were during that time. They and their parents wait for their return day after day and live off of the slivers of hope that letters from their brothers provide the remaining family whenever they arrive in the post. Eventually there comes a point when the letters cease to arrive and the two sisters decide that they need to set out on their own to find their brothers and bring them home so that their family can be whole again.
While, yes, it may seem that Rose and Isabel’s decision to leave their homestead on their own might be a bit uncharacteristic for the women of the time Mathot crafts a back story for the two female protagonists that makes the choice that they make ring true for their characters. Mathot breathes such believability into Rose and Isabel as characters that it makes their journey and the events that surround it ring with poignancy and importance. Mathot makes the two sisters distinct and real characters in the book and that ability to craft two female characters that come to life on the page is Mathot’s greatest gift. While, yes, Mathot’s storytelling and artistic skills are truly worthy of his stature at Pixar it was his skill at building his two main characters that impressed me the most. Because I was able to believe in his characters I was able to believe that they would be able to go out into the world and achieve and experience what they achieve and experience. It’s the strength of Rose and Isabel’s character that make the book and what makes Mathot’s story stand out above the comic book crowd.
Cora is a somewhat indirect sequel to Rose and Isabel. I can’t really go into much of Cora’s plot without spoiling some of its predecessor’s plot but I will say that it’s just as impressive a book as Rose and Isabel is. There is somewhat of a tonal shift from Rose and Isabel to be sure but the story is solid in its own way. Cora herself is a different character from the ones in the book that came before her but her journey is just as compelling. Although it’s hard to make a complete judgment call on the story as a whole because volume three of Cora has yet to be released, I feel confident in recommending Cora just based on the first two chapters alone. That and the fact that the Rose and Isabel graphic novel was such an impressive work make me feel confident that the entirety of Cora will be a great read once it’s finished. Either way, chapters one and two are still better than your average comic book and would be a worthy addition to any comic library…even without the final chapter to complete it.
According to the Rose and Isabel website it looks like Mathot has begun work on a Rose and Isabel screenplay. While I think a Rose and Isabel movie would be fantastic based on my love for the comic I really hope that Mathot hasn’t forgotten the book that it came from. I’m still waiting on the last chapter to Cora and want to see that more than I do any film project adapted from Mathot’s fantastic comic work.