|The time Schlitize met Jackie Cooper...|
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Friday, September 25, 2020
Sunday, September 20, 2020
As a professor at UTK and a grad of UGA, I have an antipathy for gators. But Investigators is utterly charming and hilarious, and 5-year-old is currently obsessed with it to boot. It stars two gators named Mango and Brash who are agents of Special Undercover Investigation Teams (SUIT). You can tell them apart by their jawlines and coloring. Mango's jaw is round and he is dark green, while Brash is lighter green and has a square jaw. Clad in their high-tech Very Exciting Spy Technology (VEST), they go into action to solve some extraordinary cases. In this book they are trying locate a famous cupcake baker named Gustavo Mustachio, who has gone missing for two weeks, and suspect foul play.
Also, they want to foil a villain who has stolen a device that digitizes physical money and automatically deposits it electronically. It even works through walls, which makes it especially harmful. It might not be so much a spoiler that these two cases eventually intersect.
As you might tell from the names of devices and agencies, this book is full of puns, and Mango is very fond of them, too. The back and forth conversations and sound effects are frequently funny. This book is also full of pop culture references and snappy dialogue, and the sum of all these things makes it a fun book to read aloud. There is also some potty humor, as the agents' main mode of transportation is flushing themselves down into sewers.
Adding to the fun visually is a wild array of characters and character designs. There is a triceratops escape artist named Houdino. There is a villainous crocodile who is part baked good named Crackerdile. There is a giant chicken who is also a scientist/inventor named Dr. Doodledoo. There is also Doctor Copter, a brain surgeon who was bitten by a rabid helicopter and who is compelled to transform into a helicopter to cover anything especially newsworthy. There is lots of whimsy and invention at play in this book, and my 5-year-old is really taken by this motley assortment of characters. He especially wants to read and re-read the chapters that tell Dr. Copter and Crackerdile's origin stories.
The end-papers also have a few bonus features, including a guide on how to draw the main characters, which my son is very into. Altogether, this book has lots to offer in terms of readers young and old. It is fun to read together. It has vibrant, unique characters. The plot is off-the-wall and the dialogue laugh-out-loud funny. It truly is a great graphic novel for all ages, which is a pretty hard trick to pull off.
This book was created by John Patrick Green. I enjoyed his first graphic novel Hippopatomister, and he has also drawn a number of other books for children as well as the mini-comic Teen Boat! written by Dave Roman. He speaks about the origins of the Investigators series in this interview.
All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Kirkus Reviews concluded that it was "silly and inventive fast-paced fun." Publishers Weekly called it "fast-paced fun for the bad pun and dorky joke crowd: 'Now let’s flush ourselves down the nearest toilet and GATER DONE!'" Kate Quealy-Gainer wrote, "While the art is a bit more sophisticated than Pilkey’s Dogman, the tone is the same, and those waiting for the next installment of that series may want to spend time with this weird reptilian pair."
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Thursday, September 10, 2020
I never would think that a graphic novel about crows would have me completely rapt, but this book Crows: Genius Birds is exceptionally good. I've read almost all the books in the Science Comics series and this one is easily one of the best. It has a fun framing sequence and is chock full of interesting facts about corvids. The framing sequence involves the smartest crow in the world recruiting a dog named Buddy to help him dump over receptacles on garbage day so they can both feast. Along the way, the crow regales Buddy on all sorts of crow facts, including how they can learn to identify people's faces, imitate bird calls and human voices, and even use tools.
The artwork in this volume is very clear and colorful. I admire how it switches back and forth from propelling the plot and elucidating information or explaining an experiment. It is one of the most accessible and engaging science books I have read, and I think it would be attractive and useful for a wide array of readers.
I am very impressed by what I think is the graphic novel debut of Kyla Vanderklugt. She is not a novice comics creator, and in the past she has contributed to a number of comics anthologies, including Flight and Spera.
I have not seen many reviews of this book, but the ones I've read have been very positive. Johanna Draper Carlson wrote that it "is one of the best of this series. It’s everything a non-fiction graphic
novel should be: informative, attractive, well-drawn, and fun to read!" Jonathan H. Liu concluded, "If you like crows and want to learn more about them, this book is a great resource." It currently has a 4.53 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Apparently, the fine folks at First Second have found a lot of success in their Science Comics series and have branched out into other areas. That series has been of overall high quality, and I have high expectations for whatever they publish. Their first other series is Maker Comics, which is sort of a practical extension of the SC series, with titles about fixing cars, baking, and building robots. I reviewed one title here, and I was pretty impressed with it. More recently, they also branched out with a series aimed at social studies topics, History Comics. They have two titles out so far, and I review them below.
The first book I read was The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes, which is about the huge 1871 blaze that destroyed a huge section of The Windy City. This book makes the events here very personal, following a couple of siblings Franny and J.P. who live nearby where the fire started and have to traverse the city in order to avoid the flames. They are great point-of-view characters who both narrate historical/geographic information and also put a human face on the goings-on.
This book gets into all sorts of issues, including the prejudice against immigrants and how the legend was created that blamed Mrs. O'Leary (and her cow) as the cause of the fire. Attention is also paid to the urban planning (or lack thereof) at the time and how the city was rebuilt in the aftermath of the fire, with the advent of skyscrapers and other technological innovations. All of these were showcased 22 years later at the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition.
The end of the book is rounded out with some nifty features, like a timeline of events, a list of facts about the Chicago Fire, and a map of relevant historical sites to visit today. I really enjoyed reading this book, and I feel it's a good, highly accessible introduction to the series.
It was written by Kate Hannigan, a former journalist who has written a number of middle grades and picture books, including the multiple award-winning The Detective's Assistant. It was illustrated by Alexandra Gaudins, who also drew The Brain entry of Science Comics as well as a number of digital and webcomics.
All the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Esther Keller wrote, "The fast-paced read is highlighted with superb artwork that evokes the time period and gives readers the feeling of chaos that ensued in Chicago." Kirkus Reviews concluded, "A fictive plotline adds a strong “you are there” feel to this informative account."
The second book I read was The Roanoke Colony: America's First Mystery, which is about the first attempts of the British to establish a permanent colony in North America. It is narrated by Wanchese and Manteo, two indigenous leaders that the English encountered. They offer a good contrast with their viewpoints, as in reality Wanchese was more weary of the British and their intentions. Both also traveled to England, and Manteo was the first Native American to be baptized into the Church of England.
This book is more packed with information, and it gives a broad context to the times and geography. It tells of the various indigenous nations that were active in the area, along with their political structures, homes, and tools. It sheds extensive light on the British politics of the day, with particular attention to Queen Elizabeth I (who brushed her teeth with honey-!!!), "debonair hot boy" Sir Walter Raleigh, and pilot/pirate Simon Fernandes. It chronicles conflicts with rival European nations and also pirates. The failure of this colony lie in a great number of factors, including colonial cluelessness, skirmishes with local peoples, lack of supplies, improper training of colonists, needlessly cruel leadership, and privileging capitalist interests over people's general safety. I was impressed by how much nuance and detail is packed into this book with it still being so accessible and engaging.
This book does not have the same features that concluded The Great Chicago Fire, but I also feel that it covers lot more content in terms of historical context and complexity. Instead it ends with possible solutions to the mystery of what happened to this "lost colony" that was left to its own devices for months. These final pages offer a number of possibilities, starting with the evidence that they literally left a note on a tree that they had gone to the island of Croatoan (where Manteo was from) but storms complicated any search efforts. Among these possible endings are that the colonists may have been slaughtered by any number of factions, including natives or the Spanish, abducted by aliens(!), or assimilated into local nations. Reading this book, it is easy to see why this mystery is still so compelling, especially when presented in such a well-researched manner.
The creator behind this book is Chris Schweizer, who also made the volume of Maker Comics I just reviewed. Like I wrote then, he is a comics Renaissance man who has created a few series like the Crogan's Adventures and The Creeps. He has a bent toward historical works and is one of the best artists working right now, IMHO.
I have not found as many reviews of this book online, but the ones I have read have been full of praise. Carin Siegfried wrote that it "was a lot of fun, really informative, and I especially liked how the story was told from the perspectives of the Native Americans." As of this writing, it has a 4.14 (out of 5) star rating at Goodreads.