- Posted by Johanna on February 22, 2011 at 8:54 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
Forgive me for taking so long to bring out another installment of this column. I had such good intentions in talking about comics for younger readers regularly, but after three pieces last year — in January, March, and May — I got behind. So this edition will catch up with a lot of books released over the past half-year. (Most were provided by the publishers as review copies.)
Read on for more on the following books:
- Amelia Rules!: True Things (Adults Don’t Want Kids to Know)
- Binky the Space Cat
- Bone: Tall Tales
- The Good Neighbors: Kind
- Guinea Pig: Pet Shop Private Eye: And Then There Were Gnomes
by Jimmy Gownley
Simon & Schuster, $10.99 US
I’ve already talked about this book last year, based on a preview copy, but I wanted to revisit it, because it’s the kind of book that works extraordinarily well when you do that. As you read it at different ages or different times of life, you’ll notice different pieces of wisdom.
Gownley’s strength is combining the funny with the true. His kid characters do weird and silly things, sometimes because they’re kids and sometimes because they’re fearless, but he also acknowledges that it’s difficult to be young. These memories can be the most potent of your life, all the more painful for happening without as much context for them.
This volume also has two parallel, supporting stories of more resonance to the older reader. Tanner, Amelia’s aunt and former rock ‘n’ roller, is struggling to make money to restore her house. She’d left behind the music industry, but she might have been wrong to give up her songs at the same time. The question of how to make art as a career on your own terms is a difficult one, especially today, and Tanner’s struggles are all the more realistic for being backed by Gownley’s own prior experience as a self-publisher. In smaller fashion, Amelia’s father also struggles with the question of figuring out “what do I want to do when I grow up?” when you’re already an adult, with obligations and others depending on you.
Amelia is a wonderful role model for young women, as is Tanner. The sequence where the older woman asks out Amelia’s teacher is particularly refreshing — we rarely see a woman being the initiator without it being played to encourage laughing at an agressive female.
The art is astounding, easy to read but subtly accomplished in its effects, especially its emotive lettering, which often becomes visually artistic in its own right. Gownley’s ability with expressions is immense, making the art an essential partner to the text. The ending is so much a change that I worried that this was intended to be a kind of wrap-up of the series, so I was glad to hear that a seventh book, The Meaning of Life… And Other Stuff, is planned for September. I’m very curious to see where Amelia goes next.
story by Holly Black
art by Ted Naifeh
Graphix/Scholastic, $16.99 US
The Good Neighbors fantasy trilogy concludes here. (Book one was Kin; book two, Kith.) Rue is half-human, half-faerie, and the tension between her two strands of heritage is reflected in her world, as the fey folk launch an invasion.
Rue’s city has been taken over by faeries and sealed off from the rest of the world. She and her teenage friends don’t know what to do with themselves; even though everything’s changed, they still struggle with a sense of purpose. Naifeh’s art is a perfect choice for this kind of teen fantasy with its disaffected characters. He’s known for his Courtney Crumrin series, which has a similar mood. It’s definitely an adolescent book, since Rue is more concerned with finding her friends, especially her boyfriend, then preventing a war.
I was surprised to see the same piece of advice I noted in the Amelia book. Here, it’s phrased as “Sometimes you can’t go back to the way things were. You just have to go forward.” Rue answers with something even more dark: “People never get the things they want.” She misses the more normal struggles of human life, instead of having to worry about blood-based obsessions and enchantments that override free will.
This isn’t the book to start with, but followers of the series will want to find out Rue’s final choice. Given the time between their releases, you may want to start with rereading the prior volumes, since events from the previous books are referred to without sufficient explanation. Teenagers will best identify with the feelings of alienation.
by Andi Watson
Walker Books, N/A US
It’s sad to note that something as charming as this modern fairy tale for girls was such a complete failure in the U.S. I’ve been ordering the U.K. editions online so I can have a matched set in the cute digest size, with all the neat design touches: glitter highlight on the pastel cover with matching colored shading inside.
The Haunted Teapot, in addition to telling a darlingly illustrated story about mysterious happenings at Chilblain Hall, is accompanied by one of my favorite extras: an illustrated recipe. The charm is enhanced by the story being rather British in tone and word choice.
Glister gets a mysterious teapot in the mail. When she uses it, the ghost of writer Phillip Bulwark-Stratton appears. He’s mad that his reputation has been damaged and his works forgotten, so he enlists Glister as his secretary to finish his last book.
The story is creative and funny and full of amusing details, all beautifully drawn with emotion and excellent storytelling. The vocabulary can be pleasantly challenging, demonstrating a love for words that equals the images. I love Dad leaving Glister to make tea while he heads out to tackle the local troll under the bridge with a butterfly net. Then, when Phillip doesn’t consider how much Glister needs a break from the typewriter, Dad calls up, “I’ve fed your tea to the troll.” Punchline!
Then there’s the difference in their approaches to story construction — Glister keeps trying to introduce people to take care of the novel’s lead character, while Phillip turns everything into increased tragedy. And when she decides to reclaim charge of her own life, Glister demonstrates her creativity, willingness to ask for help, and imagination in finding different ways to solve her problem. Overall, it’s a wonderful read and a terrific book to share.
The book also has two additional stories, short two-pagers that show more of the characters, plus a preview of the next book: The House Hunt. In this one, we get a tour of Glister’s very unusual home, with magical rooms that come and go and its haunting inhabitants. Unfortunately, the village official, preparing for a show-offy competition, doesn’t appreciate its unique charms. When the house gets its feelings hurt, it leaves, and Glister has to find it and convince it to return. The various locations and architectural features provide terrific exercise for Watson’s imagination.
by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press, $8.95 US
This odd little series is strangely imaginative. Binky is a cat, drawn in a pyramid shape, who envisions himself an astronaut. He wants to “explore unknown places” and “battle alien creatures”, but in reality, he’s never been outside the house.
(That’s remedied in the second book, Binky to the Rescue, in which Binky falls out the window and then has to return to outer space to rescue his buddy, a little toy mousie named Ted. We also see more funny ninja-like Binky moves. Even better than the first book!)
“Outer space” is thus the outdoors, leading to idea sequences that have real space facts but strangely apply them to drawings of a cat in the yard. It’s thus a book for the unusual child, one who doesn’t follow the standard rules of logic in their entertainment, especially one who loves their pet cat.
The aliens, by the way, are bugs, and Binky’s idea of doing research involves falling asleep on a book. Spires does an excellent job of translating cat superiority and personality to Binky’s characterization, as when torture is envisioned as “having to stay in the same room as the vacuum”. The images are relatable but still funny, with distinctive visuals about the cat trying to build a spaceship. The books have high re-read potential with creative ideas that will be particularly amusing to pet lovers.
by Hans Christian Andersen
illustrated by POP
adapted by Michiyo Hayano
Dark Horse Books, $16.99 US
I had no idea Dark Horse was putting out storybooks for kids, especially such lovely, manga-influenced volumes. The pastel art is refreshing, and the typical big-eyed manga style makes Cinderella look even more vulnerable and innocent. Unfortunately, it also makes her look a bit too young for the story — but this is somewhat compensated for by drawing the prince younger as well.
It’s a familiar story, with no twists or updates, just pretty art, in a hardcover that would be a good choice for libraries or parents of wannabe princesses.
by Jeff Smith
additional stories written by Tom Sniegoski
Graphix/Scholastic, $10.99 US
Since the Bone series has become such a success, a starting point is a good idea, and this collection of five short stories gives a good taste. Three involve Big Johnson Bone, an ancestor who founded Boneville, while the other two start with “Smiley and the Bone Scouts”, a setup that leads into a tale of the Bones trying to follow a treasure map and being attacked by a giant eagle.
This single volume prequel will give a good idea to the new reader whether they want to invest in reading the bigger series, with the same animated art and exaggerated adventure. Plus a monkey and the stupid, stupid rat creatures.
by Colleen AF Venable
illustrated by Stephanie Yue
Graphic Universe, $6.95 US
The adorable pet shop animals from Hamster and Cheese return in the latest installment of the Guinea Pig: Pet Shop Private Eye series. Again, this isn’t really a mystery — the enjoyment comes from seeing the silly things the animals do and especially the ridiculous mis-namings the pet shop owner uses. The snake is labeled “gorilla”, and the chinchillas “camels”, for example.
The animals, most of the cute furry kind, such as hamsters, mice, rabbits, are drawn simply but with personality. The hamster who keeps bugging the guinea pig to solve more mysteries (out of his own desire to play sidekick) thinks he feels a ghost when he stands next to the air vent. Then the mice start disappearing.
The traps and plans are the funniest part of the book, as when the hamster is sent into the snake’s cage to investigate and how they rescue him. With so many characters, there’s something everyone will enjoy in this story.
by Jason Shiga
Amulet Books, $15.95 US
The cover claims 3,856 possibilities in this “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style comic, and I can believe it. Unfortunately, the introduction warns us “most will end in doom and disaster” (also like the CYOA novels) and only one path will “lead you to happiness and success”. On the bright side, that means lots of re-read and play value as the reader tries to figure out the best choices.
Jimmy winds up in a mad scientist’s laboratory and has to choose among a time travel machine, a memory transfer hat, and a doomsday device. A unique path system allows the reader to follow the adventures from page to page using tabs on the page edges, and through complicated branches on each page. The first choice, chocolate or vanilla ice cream, teaches the reader how different fates can result from each decision. The reader might dip onto a page spread only to read one of the many panels and then off to another set of images. The reading path can go in any direction. There are some complicated physics concepts involved (as you’d expect, from mathematician Shiga), so it’s not so much a story as a game. I loved it (as I have since its original minicomic publication; the color here makes for a richer experience). Incredibly clever.