Review: Hicotea: A Nightlights Story (Nobrow Press)

Hicotea is the latest astoundingly beautiful book from Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights series and Nobrow Press. Sandy heads off on a field trip with her class mates, but when they fall out and she goes off on her own she encounters a strange new world inside a turtles shell.

Publisher: Nobrow Press
Writer: Lorena Alvarez
Artist: Lorena Alvarez
Price: £14.99 from

With shades of Alice in Wonderland and Spirited Away, Hicotea is another sublime modern fairytale. When she enters the turtle shell Sandy encounters the titular Hicotea, a fastidious turtle museum keeper who, once he has cleaned up the mess Sandy makes from kicking his house around, shows her a painting of a world called the wetlands which he has left blank. Hicotea asks Sandy to enter the mysterious realm in the painting and in there she finds yet another world that is struggling to survive with out Hicotea’s involvement.

As with other recent Nobrow release Tyna of the Lake, it is hard not to describe Hicotea as Studio Ghibli-esque. It has that same dream like world building, populated with strange and wonderful characters along with a wistful female lead with huge doe-like eyes. It also has that surreal inventiveness of the work of Shaun Tan, especially with it’s lush mix of colours that range from the murky greens of the field trip, to the vibrant pastels of the wetlands and ultimately to a much darker place as well involving the bird like villain at the end.

As with Nightlights Alvarez’s artwork is just out of this world, with some of the most amazing pages you will see this year. From Hicotea’s intricate museum home, to the breath taking world of the wetlands, her work feels even more confident in this latest volume. Although the action begins with relatively tight panels, it soon breaks out to use more more double page spreads to tell the story. Many of these have no panels and sees the action leap around different parts of the page seamlessly to create a really enthralling style of page. Perhaps the best of the bunch is a spread with Sandy exploring the wetlands with Den the frog which is just incredible.

As with Nightlights the story feels a little light on substance and is resolved a bit too quickly for our liking,  and without too much peril or danger. However this relative lightness does not stop it from being a truly compelling read. With subplots which touch on environmentalism as well as childhood friendship, and the blurred lines between imagination and reality, just like Alice in Wonderland, there is depth there if you want to look for it. Alternatively it is also just a beautiful story about a young girl exploring a wonderful strange world.

A glorious mix of modern fairytale, children story book and contemporary comics. Perfect for kids of all ages, but also one which adults can enjoy with their children as their are issues to discuss and themes to draw out along the way. (Just be prepared for the frog dissection scenes in the opening chapter!) It also  rewards repeated reading as you take in every wondrous detail on each page and is another truly essential read from Nobrow.