The Dancing Plague of 1518 is definitely one of the strangest mysteries to ever exist. One summer’s day the inhabitants of Strasbourg, in what’s today France, began to dance in the streets. This began with a single person who started dancing and wouldn’t stop; not at the behest of their family, not to sleep, not to eat. They just kept on dancing. But then it spread to others, and more and more people began to join in. By the end up to 400 people were taking part, with no obvious reason or cause. They danced until their feet bled and they dropped from exhaustion.
This is what writer Gareth Brookes explores in The Dancing Plague, and delves into possible reasons for the outbreak. The story follows the life of Mary, a woman who has been plagued by strange visions and images her whole life. Mary chooses to flee to a convent in order to banish her visions, but soon comes to see them as a gift from God, allowing her to see demons and wickedness.
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But when she tells those around her about this she is betrayed, her fellow sisters and the priests turning against her. After fleeing the convent Mary settles down with her new husband in Strasbourg, and has a family. But one day she begins to see strange demonic entities in the street, entities that are taking hold of the townspeople and forcing them to dance uncontrollably.
Brookes uses the mystery of the Dancing Plague to tell the story of a woman used as a scapegoat by those around her, who’s blamed for the evil in the world, who’s treated with suspicion for deviating from the expected norm by even a small bit. So it’s pretty historically accurate for how quickly men would turn on women throughout European history.
What really made the book stand out from other graphic novels, however, is the art style; one that I’m pretty confident in saying is unique to this book. Every single page, each and every panel, resembles a tapestry. The book immediately brought to mind the imagery of the Bayeux Tapestry, possibly one of the most famous tapestries in the world, and it really helped to transport me back in time.
Whilst this art style is unique and stands out, it does however have a few negative things about it. The first, and one that most people probably wouldn’t care about, is that the style brings to mind art from a much earlier period than the 1500s, and is more reminiscent of medieval art than it is art of the Renaissance period.
The other thing about the artwork is that it does sometimes become a little difficult to know who everyone is, thanks to the super simplified drawings. It can be hard to know who is in a particular scene unless the characters are addressed by name. Despite this, it’s still one of the most visually unique books around.
The Dancing Plague was an interesting book, one that took one of the strangest phenomenons in history and tried to put a human story in the middle of it, a story that talks about the abuse and suffering women have had to endure over the centuries. It’s not a particularly long read, but if you’re looking for an interesting way to spend an hour or two it will definitely entertain.
The Dancing Plague is out on 29th April from SelfMadeHero.