Monday, June 30, 2008

Graphic Lit: More kids comics

Time to wade through the ever-teetering review pile once again. This time, we'll take a look at some of the more notable kid-friendly graphic novels that have come out in the past few months. Join me, won't you? 

"Optical Allusions" by Jay Hosler, Active Synapse Comics, 127 pages, $20.

A biology professor as well as talented cartoonist, Hosler has used comics to explore the world of science, examining the life of a honeybee in "Clan Apis" and Darwin's theory of evolution in "The Sandwalk Adventures."

In his latest book, "Optical Allusions," Hosler looks (ha-ha) at the evolutionary development of the eye via the adventures of a cute anthropomorphic brain named Wrinkles.

Wrinkles has lost his bosses' magic eye you see, and to get it back he embarks on an fanciful quest that has him meeting Darwin, a Cyclops, insect pirates and blind fish. Along the way he learns how eyes developed over the centuries and how they work. Hosler intersperses his fascinating and very funny tale with in-depth articles, making this a valuable supplemental textbook as well as a great comic. 

"Flight Explorer Vol. 1" edited by Kazu Kibuishi, Villard, 112 pages, $10.

This is basically a pocket-sized, all-ages version of the popular anthology series, featuring many of the same contributors. I actually enjoyed this collection more than the "grown-up" "Flight" volumes, which tend to be a bit shallow in the storytelling department. Such concerns are less significant here, and though there are a few clunkers, overall the quality, especially in the art department, is quite high. Some of the tales might be a bit too violent for younger tots, but I imagine older kids will enjoy it immensely. 

"Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper" by Kazu Kibuishi, Scholastic, 192 pages, $9.99.

"Flight" editor Kibuishi tries his hand at a more epic narrative with this graphic novel, the first in a projected five volume series. Influenced very heavily by the works of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, "Amulet" sets up the story of a young girl and her brother traveling through a fantastic world to save their mother.

The book doesn't tread any new ground (magic talismans, ancient prophecies and quirky sidekicks abound), but neither does it come off as cliched or overly familiar. A good deal of that is due to Kibuishi's skill at keeping the characters' emotions and motivations in the forefront while moving the action speedily along. I haven't seen that sort of skill before in his work, suggesting this might be the series that officially marks him as a mature artist and storyteller to watch out for. 
"Sardine in Outer Space 5" by Emmanuel Guibert, First Second, 112 pages, $14.95.

This is the first book in the zany series about effervescent little space pirate Sardine that Guibert has done without the help of his frequent collaborator, Joann Sfar. Most of the stories fare well despite the absence, though a few, seem to either fall flat or end abruptly. Still, the inventive, zany humor endures enough that fans of the previous volumes will definitely want to check this one out. 

"Asterix Omnibus," by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, Sterling, $19.95 per volume.

This classic Belgian series about a Gaulish village that continually fends off the Roman Empire thanks to a magic potion have been packaged together — three titles per book — in a nice soft cover, $20 editions. Considering that the individual volumes sell for about $13 a pop, that's a pretty good bargain. The production values and translation seems to have improved as well, which is nice.

These are classic, hilarious tales that just about every kid should be exposed to — I have fond memories of reading these adventures while visiting extended family. You want to avoid the later volumes, however, when Uderzo took on the writing chores after Goscinny's death. Those are horrible.



At 2:08 PM, Blogger George said...

I'm sure the Belgian's won't mind, as most people say their series are French(!), but Asterix is French (or Italian/Argentinian, depending on how much you place by family and/or place-of-birth/education)



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