When I try to think of cat-related graphic novels for kids, I find that titles don’t fall trippingly off of my tongue. Sure there’s the fabulous Fashion Kitty (a great series, in spite of the sound of its name). But that’s about it on the feline side of things. While mice have always fared well in comics (Mickey Mouse, Maus, etc.) and continue to do so (Babymouse, Mouse Guard, Missile Mouse, etc.) cats don’t get a lot of play aside from the odd Krazy Kat and Calvin and Hobbes. Enter Binky. Binky is strong. Binky is brave. Binky is noble. And Binky also happens to be an overweight housecat who believes that he is a brave denizen of outer space. Having divided and conquered already in his previous book Binky the Space Cat, our hero returns in this, his most daring adventure yet.
The life of your average, everyday spacecat is never easy. Binky doesn’t really live in a space station, but try telling him that. With so many invading aliens/moths to defeat, it’s little wonder that he keeps so busy. One day, while routinely chasing an alien around and about the home, Binky accidentally leaps through a screen window and finds himself in outer space/the outdoors. Worst of all, his beloved mousie toy Ted (and co-pilot) has fallen out as well. Binky is rescued by his humans but Ted is left in the clutches of the enemy (wasps). Now Binky must find a way to locate and save his best friend, no matter what the cost.
This is a Canadian children’s series, which makes for some interesting comparisons. The Canadians are different from you and me. They have a bit of a European sensibility to their comics. For the most part Binky is like any other comic you might name, though shots of his rear are amusingly French. He also seems to suffer from a bit of space gas, but a big deal isn’t made about this. If you have kids that are desperate to find fart jokes in all their literature then I’m sure they’ll be adequately amused by the little “poooot!” but for other readers it will hardly register.
Half the fun in these stories are the sound effects Spires makes up. They’re as much a part of the action as the narration, if not more so. What’s interesting about them, though, is that you wouldn’t necessarily notice them on a first reading. Spires has chosen to make the words printed rather than drawn, giving them an almost invisible quality on the page. Your eyes read them without necessarily noticing that you are doing so. They don’t stand out either but wrap around the action, so as to remain as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. I like the made up words too. Who knew that the sound a person makes when they imitate a laser gun shooting would spell out to something like “pssew! psssew!”? And sometimes these words explain an image better than the picture itself. For example, in one scene Binky is on the ground looking up as his humans seated on the couch and the word “wiggle” appears near his hindquarters. Certainly any cat owner will instantly recognize that move.
The art in the Binky books is probably what drew me to them in the first place. Spires utilizes a limited color palette here. In the indoor world is mostly gray and the outdoor world a subdued green. Binky is black and white, which means that your eye tends to be drawn to him, regardless of where he appears at any given time. The way Spires chooses to break up the panels is also particularly interesting here. She’s very good at conveying how the action in a scene moves from moment to moment. Some graphic illustrators have a difficult time grasping the connection between one panel and another. Spires never has that problem. Her scenes flow together nicely while always keeping the eyes darting around the pages. In fact, they work so well together that I would bet you dollars to donuts that if you removed all the narration from this book and then handed it to a child, that kid would still be able to follow the plot without any difficulty at all. For all we know, maybe that was the way it was originally intended to be read.
Interestingly, the only real problem I had with the art was that for most of the book the size of the humans was interchangeable. Not having read the first Binky book, I just assumed the two folks who owned Binky were husband and wife. It wasn’t until one of them called “Mom!” that the relationship was made clear. Still, that’s just a minor quibble.
You could probably make some comparisons between Binky’s extended fantasy life and that found in the picture book The Secret Life of Walter Kitty. The difference, of course, is that while Walter could never concentrate on a single fantasy, Binky is faithful to his belief that he is a space cat. The evidence, after all, is overwhelming. Bugs = aliens. The outdoors = outer space. Easy peasy. The end result is a book that will interest emerging readers and older readers equally. If we were asked to send a cat into space, Binky would be my first choice. Visually stimulating and a lot of fun, this is great addition to any graphic novel collection. Worthy.
For ages 7-12.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent for review from publisher.
Misc: Regarding Ms. Ashley Spires and her website, am I allowed to call the first picture that appears when you click here the best thing ever? I think I am.