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Review: Chicagoland Detective Agency, No. 1: The Drained Brains Caper

Megan is the new girl in town, a manga-reading, goth-dressing, haiku-writing vegetarian. Raf is the son of a pet food store owner who only wants to be left alone to finish the computer program he is writing. When the two of them meet, it isn’t friendship at first sight, but soon they’re caught up in a mystery at Megan’s summer school. Can they find out why the students at Stepford Academy are so unnaturally happy all the time or will they be zombified first?

Chicagoland Detective Agency, No. 1: The Drained Brains Caper
Written by Trina Robbins; Illustrated by Tyler Page
Ages: 8-12; Grades 3-6
Lerner/Graphic Universe, September 2010
Hardback: ISBN 978-0-7613-4601-2, 64 pages, $29.27
Paperback: ISBN 978-0-7613-5635-6, 64 pages, $6.95

Robbins has been a force in American independent comics since the 1960s, so it’s wonderful that Lerner has her writing for their Graphic Universe imprint. As expected from someone who has been working in comics for so long, her story is fun, interesting, and a good set-up for the series. She begins building two very interesting characters in this first volume. Instead of trying to make the story “manga style” or some such nonsense, Robbins makes Megan a manga fan, someone with which readers will easily identify. Megan’s love of haiku may not be as familiar to the older elementary school crowd, but it matches with her Japanese-American heritage and so is easily explained. Plus, being a poetry-loving vegetarian pairs up nicely with her Gothic clothing and makes her seem like a fun 13-year-old that 9-year-old readers can look up to. Raf isn’t as well-developed here, though we get the basic sense of who he is and that allows him room to grow in future volumes. The mystery aspects are wrapped up a teensy bit too easily, but the resolution fits with the humorous aspects of the story so nicely that it is easy to overlook that small quibble.

Judging from the cover, and from the other titles being released by Graphic Universe, it seems that Chicagoland would be in color, but instead Page’s art is rendered in black-and-white. Though this might jarr the eyes slightly at the beginning of the book, readers will soon settle into the tale and not miss the color at all. Page does a careful job with shading and screentones to bring depth to his panels and Lerner has done an equally careful job of reprinting that art so that everything is crisp and clear. Megan, Raf, and the other kids look like middle school aged students, keeping the story from appearing babyish. Though Page’s art is cartoonish, it is purposefully so, which keeps the tone of the tale light, even during action sequences. Some comedic violence and discussion of animal testing are present, but nothing is inappropriate for an older elementary school audience. With mysteries for kids hard to find in graphic novel form, it was especially nice to discover this great beginning to a new series.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Lerner/Graphic Universe.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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