- Posted by Johanna on August 4, 2009 at 2:08 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- PUBLISHER: Graphix/ScholasticBoom! StudiosToon Books
Little Mouse Gets Ready
by Jeff Smith, Toon Books, $12.95 US
Due out in September, K-2 audience
The latest Toon book maintains the high quality of their line of hardcover comics for kids. The situation is simple: a mouse needs to get dressed so he can go to the barn with his family. He puts on his clothes, one piece at a time, sharing the struggles many kids do — getting the arm in the sleeve right, making the buttons match. The sneakers are Velcro, so no need to tie bows any more. Reading this, it seemed as if Beatrix Potter had been inspired by a Dressy Bessy doll. Not a bad thing at all, especially given the delicate details of the art. The surprise ending captures the blend of whimsy and practicality found in Smith’s Bone series, while the starring mouse is simply adorable.
by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess, Graphix, $10.99 US
Skewing somewhat older is Smith’s Bone prequel, the story of Gran’ma Ben when she was the young Princess Rose.
Charles Vess is deservedly well-known for his beautiful fantasy art, and his work here gives the tale gravitas and a sense of agelessness. Rose and her sister Briar are being groomed for their eventual queenship. Their training includes tales of days of dragons and the magic power of dreams. There are also talking dogs and a handsome guard captain and strange creatures and battles and omens. It’s a pleasure to see such a lovely modern fairy tale focus on young women with such leadership and bravery.
It’s lacking the humor of the original series, with none of the little white lumpy people to liven things up, and I suspect the events are more meaningful to those who have already read the Bone saga. The conclusion comes a little too quickly, with punishment doled out abruptly, but those looking for an adventure story in the mold of classic fantasy should enjoy it.
The Muppet Show: Meet the Muppets
by Roger Langridge, Boom! Studios, $9.99 US
Due out in October
The first four Muppet Show comics are collected, and they’re genius. They capture the characters perfectly, with the four main — Kermit (who misses his old home pond), Fozzie (struggling to reinvent his act by using historical models), Gonzo (unidentifiable insurance risk!), and Miss Piggy (concerned about the future of her relationship with Kermit) — each getting a spotlight. The book is so packed, though, that plenty of other cast members appear.
Each page or two is a different bit of business, evoking so many favorite gags: Veterinarian’s Hospital, Pigs in Space, Muppet Labs, the Swedish Chef, Rowlf, the newscaster, the band, the planet Koozebane, Sam the Eagle, and of course, Statler and Waldorf. The book is stuffed with humor and skits, just like the original show, plus “awww” moments of friendship and memory. I hadn’t realized how much I missed seeing new bits with these characters until this comic got it all so right. Who would have thought that you could do a musical sketch in a silent comic so well? (I’d also forgotten how cool the talking houses were until they cameo’ed.)
Of course, all this success is due to Langridge’s art. The Muppets look like people and like puppets at the same time. He illustrates the attitudes and gestures that make each character unique while still drawing them in keeping with their “real life” appearance. He also puts in verbal humor, sight gags, and all possible kinds of silliness.
This collection is highly recommended for all ages. If you ever enjoyed the Muppets, you’ll love it.
The first issue of the next miniseries, The Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson, is out now and also recommended. Scooter finds a treasure map indicating something buried under the theater, which sets off a gold rush among the rats, and Animal gets civilized. Plus, a tap-dancing ninja! Sadly, I’ve found the Muppet Robin Hood title not nearly as good, probably due to the different creators and the lack of flexibility in retelling an established story.
Toy Story: The Mysterious Stranger
by Dan Jolley and Chris Moreno, Boom! Studios, $9.99 US
Due out in September
This is another entry in Boom!’s licensed kids line, and it skews younger than the Muppets. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the simpler stories likely won’t have the same all-ages appeal.
Don’t get me wrong, these are cute stories well-told with familiar characters. But the premises aren’t multi-layered; they’re just simple problem-solving, as when the toys try to figure out what a mysterious egg in the bedroom is. Another has them dealing with a new member of the household, a dog who knows their secret.
In every case, at least some of the toys wind up seeming needy and insecure. That’s part of the character for the dinosaur, but when it extends to more, I find it overdone. This might be a case where it’s better to read the issues individually month-to-month, because the repetition of the theme wouldn’t be as obvious.
The second story, where the toys have to repair Andy’s science fair project after they accidentally break it, is the best of the lot because it gives them more to do other than stand around and worry. (Caveat: the fourth story in the book, described as “Mr. Potato Head decides that he’s … going to reveal his walking-and-talking nature to Andy!”, wasn’t available for review, so maybe that one’s just as good. It certainly sounds interesting.) In the second story, Hamm gets upset over his identity and having to hide the ability to talk from people. It adds some thought-provoking depth to the adventure and makes it memorable.
Although I found the first story the weakest, it does have a fun, well-cartooned action/chase sequence that gives most of the toys neat things to do. Also, they need to use the soldiers more, because I love them.
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Knopf Books for Young Readers, $5.99 US
Audience ages 7-12
The first two books in this new series were released simultaneously, a neat strategy to give interested young readers more to enjoy. Lunch Lady is a crimefighter when she’s not dishing out school lunches. Her co-worker Betty makes her gadgets, which include a moped that spews sloppy joe instead of an oil slick or a spatula that rotates fast enough to become a mini-copter or a spork phone or taco-shaped night vision goggles. Lunch Lady uses these tools to protect the kids in her school, whether from everyday bullies or other teachers gone mad.
The interiors are black-and-white with toning and highlights in shades of yellow, an eye-catching combination. The art style is simple, as though a child could draw it, which belies the skill on display in storytelling and pacing. There’s also plenty of imagination in the content, straight-forward adventure stories in a setting most kids can relate to.
Each book starts with a simple “stop the villain” (you know they’re bad guys because they have hoods over their heads) sequence to establish the character before starting the main plot. In Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, the math teacher is replaced by a robot as part of a devious plan to remove popular instructors. Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians, aside from being more fun to say, features the book-lovers teaming up to destroy video games. It’s full of creative images and gadgets, with plenty of homages to favorite titles.
The publisher is clearly expecting big things from this new series — there are already movie plans, with Amy Poehler starring.