Learning how to ride a bike is one of the earliest opportunities young people get to explore their independence, gaining the ability to move farther away from the parents and home than is possible on just two legs. The young characters of Ryan Andrews’ new First Second graphic novel, This Was Our Pact, use their bikes for an act of rebellion, venturing beyond their town’s limits to see where their paper lanterns go during the Autumn Equinox Festival. It’s a journey that leads into some very fantastic territory, and Andrews incorporates a heavy element of magical realism to heighten this middle grade coming-of-age story.
The storytelling is steeped in wistful nostalgia, and it’s fascinating to look at how Andrews depicts youth in This Was Our Pact compared to someone like Chris Kuzma in Lunch Quest, which makes the visuals feel like the product of a child’s imagination rather than that of an adult artist looking back. That’s no dig on Andrews. The books have very different intentions, and This Was Our Pact is very impressive in its artistic craft and emotional richness.
This exclusive preview of This Was Our Past, on sale this Wednesday, opens the story by throwing the reader right into the Autumn Equinox Festival, presenting the celebration with splash pages that each evoke specific moods. The first is a ghostly, ethereal image that leans toward expressionism, followed by a joyful shot presented with a more realistic perspective but still full of feeling. Andrews does exceptional work creating a sense of place, and as the boys speed through town on their bikes, Andrews makes this world come to life in all its mysterious beauty. This group will diminish significantly as boys chicken out and head back home, but the ones who stay will have their lives changed forever.