- Posted by Johanna on November 20, 2008 at 8:02 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- PUBLISHER: Top Shelf Productions
These reviews are based on complimentary copies provided by the publishers. All books are aimed at kids or promoted as being for all ages.
by Steve Troop, $5 US, 24 color pages, Self-Published
Zooey’s an orphan. Her parents, monster hunters, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. When her grandmother dies, a bearded stranger shows up and takes her away to a scary house… where she discovers that all the monsters really exist. She, the Jersey Devil, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and a jackalope head off to find her parents.
Most all-ages comics claim “fun and entertaining” in their promotion, but this one really succeeds. As the Jersey Devil (whom I hear as David Hyde-Pierce) lectures on the importance of secrecy, Zooey is outside playing waterslide down Nessie’s neck. Her character design is a large part of what makes the story work — she’s all head, mouth, and hands, which keeps her emotions visible and makes her funny. She’s all instant action; whatever thought hits her head, she follows through without pause for reflection. (That’s the Jersey Devil’s role, to be the eye-rolling parental type.)
Just when things are getting good, this book ends, leaving the reader eager for another issue. That’s the source of my only complaint — I would rather have seen a much longer story at an $8-10 price. I wanted much more.
Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath
by Alexis E. Fajardo, $15.95 US, 208 black-and-white pages, Bowler Hat Comics
The Prologue summarizes the epic poem in short verse, a helpful reminder to those of us who know we’ve read it but don’t remember it. The book’s divided into three sections, past, present, and future. The first shows how bullying Prince Hrothgar goes adventuring in preparation for a hoped-for marriage to Yrs.
The second follows Hrothgar’s half-dragon child Gertrude, who yearns to know more about her father and his human village. Arrogant Hrothgar is consumed with the desire to build the world’s greatest celebration hall, a grandiose fantasy inappropriate for his times and people.
It’s the third part where we finally meet Beowulf and Grendel, reimagined as 12-year-old twins (only one’s human and the other’s green with horns). By that point, we know little about their characters, but plenty about their family and heritage.
I don’t normally read fantasy because there are frequently too many characters running about fighting over tribal differences and squabbling over whose father’s legacy land belonged to whom. I felt a little of that in the beginning, but the humor and interactions drew me through. I also liked the talking sword, Nagling, for comedic relief.
This doesn’t really have much to do with the poem; instead, it’s teen fantasy adventure with plenty of soap opera. Future volumes are planned in which Beowulf and Grendel will meet the heroes of other epic poems.
The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli
by Jay Piscopo, $9.99 US, 104 color pages, Nemo Publishing
It’s an underwater Jonny Quest with souped-up 3-D computer backgrounds. The lead characters, though, are drawn in a classic Silver Age style. I liked their look, although the mixture sometimes made me queasy, and the cast can appear stiff against the high-tech backgrounds. The artificiality is always prominently on display.
The first book starts with the origin of Capt’n Eli (the kid on the cover). He was found in a futuristic vessel by an old lighthouse keeper (shades of Aquaman). He hangs out with a white dog and a 200-year-old parrot, and he’s an inventor who builds his own submarine.
Eli, looking for more information about where he came from, hooks up with a group called the Seasearchers, led by Professor Wow and made up of pilots and inventors. The author cites as his influences 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers, but the character himself looks to me most like Marine Boy (shown below), hero of a forgotten 60s anime translation.
There’s an awful lot of telling about other stories that sound more interesting than the one we’re reading. (Lots of talking head pictures, too.) The most exciting bits of his background are elided or skipped over. If a kid brings plenty of imagination of their own, they can fill in the gaps … and it’ll probably be more exciting than what’s here. However, I suspect that the most dedicated audience for this series will be parents with fond memories who want something safe to share with their kids. I found the book slow going.
A second volume is available now with the third due in January.
by Corey Barba, $10 US, 88 black-and-white pages (with color section), Top Shelf Productions
Yam, a kid in a body-covering suit, is the subject of these surreal, wordless stories. (Some collected here previously appeared in Nickelodeon magazine.) There are some weird happenings shown — for example, when collecting bugs to put in jars, Yam and a little friend meet a really huge insect who wants to collect them — but the cartooning is highly impressive, and even when doing strange or vengeful things, the characters are adorable. I especially liked the television on legs that follows Yam around like a dog.
Other stories have cupcakes as pets or people creating tiny clones of themselves or growing plant friends … they can be described as dream-like, but it’s how dreams really work, with bizarre leaps and imagery that leaves you unsettled or scratching your head.
Yam’s happy and charming to watch, though, even when refusing to learn anything from his experience or transforming in odd ways. The longest story, about his romance with a saleslady in a nearby town, is heart-warming and the most accomplished in the book. It reminded me a bit of the way Beanish wooed his love in Larry Marder’s Beanworld stories.