Does every town have a boogeyman? I think so. Wherever you find people, you’ll find tales of monsters that lurk in the night. But as we grow up, we find that monsters aren’t real and that there’s no boogeyman waiting to gobble us up. Right? But not everything is as it seem in Little Girls from publisher Image Comics, writer Nicholas Aflleje, artist Sarah DeLaine, colorist Ashley Lanni, and letter Adam Wollet.
Something stalks the streets of Harar, Ethiopia. At first it attacked livestock, devouring the brains of its prey. But now people are going missing in the night, leaving only a bloody mess behind. The police say it is just a rabid lion or a starving hyena. But schoolgirl friends Lielet and Sam know better. They believe the beast is a Kirit, a monstrous creature from Kenyan folklore. Together, these brave little girls will try to take back the night by hunting the beast that hunts themselves.
I really wanted to like Little Girls. African folklore is woefully under-represented in Western fiction, especially within comics. So when I saw that this book took place in Ethiopia and followed teenage girls hunting down a monster, I needed it my hands. On paper, Little Girls has all the elements that make a supernatural teen mystery work. Lielet and Sam are tenacious and capable and DeLaine’s Kirit design could be pulled straight out of a nightmare. Additionally, the added richness of its Ethiopian setting, Little Girls had all the ingredients for a standout graphic novel.
But as much as I wanted to like this book, I had a hard time with it. Despite its promising premise, Little Girls never figures out how to play to its own strengths or just what those strengths are. Sarah Delaine’s backgrounds are richly detailed, but her human characters are stiff and uncomfortable. If the book was going for a claustrophobic aesthetic that stiffness wouldn’t be a problem. But Little Girls takes place almost entirely in wide open spaces, which makes these stiff figures the focal point of nearly every panel.
Another issue I had with Little Girls is its laconic pace. This is a proper graphic novel, not a collection of single issues. It isn’t bound by the 22-page arc structure of your average trade paperback. As such, the book can spend as many pages as it wants on any given plotline or character. With that freedom, Aflleje devotes most of the books page count to Lielet and Sam’s friendship, with only a handful of Kirit encounters.
As much as I enjoyed reading Lielet and Sam navigate their burgeoning friendship, their slice of life moments sap the book of its dramatic tension. You never get a sense that the pair are in danger, as the Kirit’s killings remain largely off panel. The two friends excited about sharing an adventure does not build dread. When the girls are launched into conflict, it’s never clear just how concerned for them we should be or even how much of a threat the Kirit poses to Harar.
Little Girls is available in comic book stores everywhere April 24, 2019.
Despite its promising premise, Little Girls never figures out how to play to its own strengths or just what those strengths are.