Home Time: Under the River

Author and artist: Campbell Whyte

Type: Fiction, comic

Part of series: Home Time (#1)

Published: 2017

I read it: September 2018

home time under the river

The first thing anyone notices about Home Time is the artwork. Campbell Whyte’s talent is undeniable, and it’s because he’s so good that he gets a pass for what could come off as gimmicky: the major sections of the volume change art styles as the story progresses. On the whole, there is a cartoon-inspired base look that perfectly encapsulates the youngsters who this story is about, and then this groundwork allows Whyte to jump from muted tones to increasingly lush palettes. One chapter is even rendered in pixelated fashion, upping the nostalgia factor that the reader already feels because of the adventuresome story of kids stumbling through a portal in the river.

The plot is on shaky ground, and not just because of the watery portal on the other side of which the kids emerge into a wondrous natural land filled with cute and stubborn beings called Peaches. It’s unclear whether the kids all drowned and were reincarnated into this fantastical realm, if they time traveled, or if they perhaps slipped into an alternate universe. The ambiguity is probably intentional due to the author wanting to play a long game with this detailed setting, but there are one too few actual facts given to satisfy the narrative need to know.

What lacks in overall plot and characterization (the characters are fine, but I couldn’t quite learn who all five kids were), the author makes up for with grand world-building. The Peaches think the kids are forest spirits, to be welcomed and revered. The pages go into every detail about the environment, from the loosely familiar but ultimately strange animals, to the dwellings built from trees, to all the winding pathways in and out of the village. The fascinating setting underscores the central divide between the kids themselves: some want to go but some want to stay. Is the goal to get home at all costs, or is there something to be said for sticking around for a while? Would you really want to leave such a place?

Although the ending awkwardly proposes a cliffhanger that seems a tad dark for the tone, I’m all for this becoming a series (and presumably it will, with the title of this first entry including Under the River). The comic is simply a joy to read, and I recommend it despite its minor flaws.

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