- Posted by Ed Sizemore on September 25, 2008 at 8:37 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Frank Cammuso
- PUBLISHER: Graphix/Scholastic; $9.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers!
Artie King and his older sister Morgan have just transferred to Camelot Middle School. While walking to school, he meets his science teacher Mr. Merlyn. Artie has an adventure-packed first day of school: he makes friends with Percy and Wayne, gets in trouble with the principal, Ms. Dagger, and is assigned locker 001XCL. No one has been able to open this locker in years, and it’s said the kid who does will become the king of the school. When Artie opens the locker, he incurs the wrath of the school’s dodgeball champ and biggest bully, Joe Roman. Artie is challenged to a dodgeball game to determine who is the one true king of the school.
Knights of the Lunch Table functions much like a Warner Brothers cartoon: kids will enjoy the story for the characters and the plot, while adults will find plenty of literary references and jokes. Frank Cammuso is known for giving fairy tales a noir cartoon makeover in his series Max Hamm Fairy Tale Detective. Here Cammuso reinterprets the King Arthur legends, making references to Le Mort D’Arthur, The Once and Future King, Macbeth, the George Romero film Knightriders, and I’m sure a few other sources that I’ve missed.
Cammuso has created a pleasant story about trying to fit in at a new place, making friends, having courage, and using your brains when you don’t have the brawn. It’s your typical kid’s story, stocked with the usual suspects. Artie’s older sister likes to tease and bully him. The principal believes in strict discipline and authoritarian rule. Mr. Merlyn is the renegade teacher who believes in letting the children have freedom to express their creativity. Joe the bully is a Cro-Magnon three times bigger than most of the kids in school and, of course, is Ms. Dagger’s favorite student. Artie himself is an all-around average kid. He’s a good friend that wants to both fit in and do the right thing.
I’m fan of kid’s books because the moral lines are clearly drawn. Usually, the outcomes are pretty predictable, so they serve as light escapist fiction. Knights of the Lunch Table didn’t disappoint me; it was exactly what I expected. Since I’m well acquainted with the Arthurian legends, I knew Artie would open the locker and later win the dodgeball game. However, I’ve never had Artie’s terror of dodgeball, so it was hard for me to sympathize with his fear of the big game. (Do kids still play dodgeball in school? Given how injury paranoid our society is, I can’t image a school letting kids play such a ‘barbaric’ game.)
I really like the artwork. It has a cartoony look with thick lines and bright colors. The character designs are simple, but Cammuso is able to express a great range of emotions. The artwork is dynamic and actually does a great job of telling the story by itself. You can flip through the book without reading the dialogue and get a good feel for what’s going on. The pages are well-designed, guiding the eye easily from panel to panel. This would make a good starter book for getting a child to read comics.
I think kids will really enjoy this book. For adults, this is going to be like cotton candy, a nostalgic fluffy treat. Cammuso has done a good job of writing for kids while avoiding the pitfalls of trying to be ‘hip’ or ‘up-to-date’ through the use of slang or clothing styles. There’s a nice timeless quality to the character designs and language that will allow the book a long shelf life.
You can look at preview pages and play Dodge-A-Rama at the publisher’s website. (A complimentary copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.)