Review: Three More Books for Kids
Here are three more graphic novels for readers of varied ages, gathered together for no better reason than because I read them all recently:
Gumby Collected #1
By Bob Burden, Rick Geary, & Steve Oliff
Wildcard Ink, 2007, $12.95
Bob Burden’s connection with Gumby goes back twenty years, to the great [[[Summer Fun Special of 1988]]] (illustrated by Art Adams), and he’s pretty much the dream writer for a modern Gumby comic. (Although Steve Purcell, writer of the equally-great Gumby Winter Fun Special, did a damn good job as well.)
But the idea that a big media creation – even an old and quirky one like Gumby – would actually end up being written by an oddball outsider like Burden, instead of some safe writer of corporate comics, is…well, it’s as unlikely as any Bob Burden story, which I guess makes it doubly appropriate.
This trade paperback – which has an ISBN and price only on the inside front cover, tucked away like an afterthought, so it may be difficult to track down – collects the first three issues of what is supposed to be an ongoing Gumby series. (It’s been late regularly, though, so it’s anybody’s guess how long it will continue. But this book came out, and that’s more 21st century Gumby comics than I ever would have expected to begin with.)
Now, Gumby was always at least a little bit surreal – he was a boy made out of clay whose best friend was a talking horse, and he got in and out of trouble by changing his shape – but Burden’s brand of surrealism is not quite the same as that of Art Clokey, who invented Gumby back in the ‘50s. So if there are any grumpy old Gumby purists out there, they might not like this. Anyone with vaguer memories of Gumby, or no knowledge of him at all, though, will be enchanted.
A Gumby story usually starts off with some normal just-us-boys business, and that’s the case here – he and his horse Pokey are kicked out of the basement and sent to play outside by Gumby’s mother. But there they meet a semi-typical Burden Vixen, toned down for the kiddie audience: Cuddles, the cute girl next door. The neighborhood gets odder and odder, in that matter-of-fact Burden way – a house full of people named Jeffery, a variety of weird buildings, and then the carnival comes to town.
The carnival brings trouble – first mundane trouble, since the bully Nimrod tries to horn in on Cuddles, and then more serious trouble, when Gumby is hypnotized and turned into a golem. Things come out all right in the end, of course – in large part due to the spectral form of Johnny Cash. After that, Gumby and Pokey get involved with a real estate swindle that’s a front for something worse – and witness the supernatural battle of the ancient Indian Geronimo and the banker Oppenheimer (who, like most of the world’s top financial advisors, has laser teeth).
Gumby is bizarre and goofy and very difficult to describe. But it’s utterly unique. (And I haven’t even mentioned Rick Geary’s art, which is slightly simplified into something more reminiscent of animation to allow Oliff’s glowing colors room for full play. Geary is still a master at facial expressions, even on a lump of clay.) Burden’s characters say odd things, but always say them in character, and his stories have a logic to them, even if that logic can’t be explained or mapped.
[[[Sardine in Outer Space 5: My Cousin Manga and Other Stories
]]]By Emmanuel Guibert
First Second, 2008, $14.95
This is a much more traditional kid’s comic, about a band of space pirates led by Captain Yellow Shoulder and his niece Sardine who fly around the galaxy helping people and having various light adventures. (World culture has unanimously decided to ignore what pirates actually do, and what kind of people they generally are, in favor of various whitewashed versions for various audiences.) Our heroes are opposed by the evil Supermuscleman, described on the back cover as “chief executive dictator of the universe,” and his mad scientist henchman Doc Hrok.
They have ten-page adventures, which I’d bet first appeared in some magazine or other in France (though the copyright page doesn’t say that) and which are written for a quite young audience. Tension is kept very minor, and the heroes are never in much danger.
This is very nice for kids, but it really is for kids rather than “all ages,” and so I’m going to be passing it along to my own sons to see how they like it. The art is energetic and has an affinity for kid-style scrawls; the characters might have been designed to be easy to copy by a million grubby little hands.
(And, by the way – I have no idea why “my cousin Manga,” on the cover, seems to have giant marshmallows jammed onto her toothpick legs. It’s just one of those mysteries of life, I guess.)
By Joann Sfar
First Second, 2008, $13.95
And [[[Little Vampire]]] is somewhere in between – it’s not secretly for adults, as Gumby sometimes feels like it is, and it’s not purely for kids the way Sardine is. Sfar is French, as Guibert is – in fact, I think Sfar worked on some of the other volumes of Sardine with Guibert. (And they did [[[The Professor’s Daughter]]] together.) But Little Vampire has a somewhat different tone – maybe just that it’s for ten-year-olds rather than seven-year-oids.
Little Vampire collects three short graphic novels, two of which were originally published separately. They’re all about a kid vampire – called “Little Vampire” – his friends among the other monsters in the haunted house he lives in, and the living boy named Michael who becomes his friend.
They have some adventures, which aren’t too scary, but do have tension and suspense and action (unlike Sardine). The impetus for the whole series is that old kids’-book favorite: Little Vampire is lonely and wants a friend, so he meets Michael. Michael fits in with Little Vampire’s family and friends at the haunted house. The second story sees Michael learning kung fu when he’s bullied at school, and the third one sends the two boys to save dogs from cosmetics experimentation.
Sfar’s art puts a few fairly cartoony (or perhaps “clean-line”) figures in front of detail-filled scenes. Little Vampire’s design is particularly appealing – he’s a cute l’il [[[Nosferatu]]], and I wouldn’t have thought that was possible before I saw it.
Little Vampire is still more for kids than it is for adults, but it’s a book adults can enjoy reading with or to those kids.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: For another review of Joann Sfar’s Little Vampire here on ComicMix, click here. -RM]
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.