A recent visit to my local comic book store revealed a surprising array of kid- and teen-friendly comics available in pamphlet form. While I’m a big fan of the Toon Book approach – that is, packaging comics in a more durable, picture-book format – it’s hard to deny the appeal of the floppy with its allowance-friendly price tag and short length. From time to time, therefore, I’ll be exploring the spinner rack in search of great floppies for younger readers. This month’s haul includes Age of Reptiles: The Journey (Dark Horse), a dino-centric series set in the Cretaceous Period; The Marvelous Land of Oz (Marvel), a graphic adaptation of the second book in Frank L. Baum’s Oz saga; and The Stuff of Legend (Th3rd World Studios), a dark fable about a group of toys who can walk, talk, and fight closet-dwelling monsters.
Age of Reptiles: The Journey, No. 1
By Ricardo Delgado
Ages 8 and up
Dark Horse, 2009, ISBN: 7-61568-15820-5
32 pp., $3.50
If the eight-year-old in your home likes to flip through My First Dinosaur Encyclopedia just to look at pictures of t-rexes on the prowl, she’ll enjoy Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles: The Journey, a wordless, lavishly illustrated evocation of the Cretaceous Period. I say “evocation” rather than “story” because it’s a little difficult to parse what’s happening in the first issue. Though Delgado does a fine job of drawing dinosaurs eating, moving in herds, nuzzling their young, and banding together to avoid predators, it’s not obvious from context (or from the back cover, either) if these illustrations are intended to tell a story; only by consulting the Dark Horse website did I discover that colder temperatures were compelling “peaceful, forest-dwelling herbivores” southward in search of warmer climes. Some readers will find this lack of explanation frustrating, while others will find it liberating – a chance to compose their own narrative based on Delgado’s vivid renderings of pterosaurs, triceratops, brontosaurs, and tyrannosaurs. Either way, readers of all ages will find Delgado’s meticulous attention to detail and flair for staging grand scenes enticement enough to read this — wait for it — dino-mite comic.
The Marvelous Land of Oz, No. 1
By Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Ages 8 and up
Marvel, 2009, ISBN: 7-59606-06782-4
32 pp., $3.99
The second of Frank L. Baum’s fourteen Oz tales, The Marvelous Land of Oz begins in Gillikin Country, where Tip, a young boy, labors as an indentured servant to Mombi, a wicked old sorceress. Eager to test a newly acquired magical powder, Mombi sprinkles it on Jack Pumpkinhead, a scarecrow that Tip fashioned from tree branches and a jack-o-lantern. Mombi’s powder brings Jack to life, inspiring her to hatch a cruel scheme: Jack will replace Tip as her slave, and Tip will become the centerpiece of her new garden – as a marble statue! Desperate to save their skins, Tip and Jack steal away from Mombi’s cottage under cover of night, thus beginning a magical odyssey that will eventually land them in the middle of an uprising against the Scarecrow, who succeeded the Wizard of Oz as ruler of Emerald City.
Fans of Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be pleased to learn that The Marvelous Land of Oz has been adapted by the same team behind the first series. Eric Shanower’s script hews closely to Baum’s sequel, relating the events of the first few chapters economically but effectively; by the end of the first issue, Shanower has firmly established Tip, Mombi, and Jack Pumpkinhead’s personalities and their roles in the adventure to come. Skottie Young’s character designs suit Shanower’s script to a tee, using an astonishing array of shapes and lines to reveal each character’s temperament, while Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s exquisite use of color imbues the Gilliken landscape with soul; its cultivated fields are warmly inviting, while its dark forests exude menace.
The Marvelous Land of Oz is one of the few All Ages comics whose content and vocabulary are truly appropriate for a range of readers, from second graders to thirty-something adults. Tweens and teens will find this graphic adaptation a terrific introduction to the Oz universe (beyond what they know from watching the MGM movie, that is), while younger readers can enjoy the story purely on the level of “once upon a time.” Highly recommended.
Toy Story with teeth – that’s how I would describe The Stuff of Legend, a series chronicling the life-and-death battle between a group of toys and the monster who holds the toys’ owner hostage. Writers Mike Raicht and Brian Smith start from the premise that children have good reason to fear lights-out: in their story, the Boogeyman is real, lurking in closets and waiting for the right opportunity to drag his victims into an alternate realm from which no one returns. When the Boogeyman kidnaps a little boy from his Park Slope bedroom, his toys – a stuffed bear, a piggy bank, a jack-in-the-box, a mechanical ballerina, an Indian princess, a pull-toy duck, and a toy soldier – plan a rescue operation, plunging into The Dark (as this alternate realm is known) to confront the Boogeyman directly.
Soulful toys are nothing new, but Raicht, Smith, and artist Charles Paul Wilson III make this very familiar concept seem fresh with complex characters and beautiful, sepia-toned artwork. Though some of the toys are predictable types – the toy solider is bold, decisive, and unwavering in his belief that his master should be saved – others harbor resentment against the boy after suffering neglect or abuse, and are easily manipulated by the Boogeyman’s henchmen. Wilson’s drawings reveal each toy’s rich emotional life through delicately wrought facial expressions and body language, while Jon Conkling and Michael DeVito’s superb command of light and shadow give Wilson’s illustrations considerable depth and volume.
Young readers won’t find much to engage their interest, as the toys have a decidedly old-fashioned look, and speak like adults. Teens, however, may well respond to the series’ dark, Jim Henson-esque visuals and emotionally charged storyline. Highly recommended.