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Review: ‘Lucy & Andy Neanderthal’

lucy-andy-neanderthalLucy and Andy Neanderthal
Writer/artist: Jeffrey Brown
Crown Books for young readers; $12.99

After spending the last few years in a galaxy far, far away, building a young reader audience with his Darth Vader cartoon books and his Jedi Academy diary comics, Jeffrey Brown has returned to earth, but now he’s refocusing on a long time ago–40,000 years ago, to be precise. That’s the setting of his new black and white comic for kids, Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, starring a pair of stone age kids who live in a small band with their parents, their baby brother, a neighbor and his two teenagers, and Tiny, their saber-toothed house cat.

If that last bit sounds fanciful, don’t worry—Brown is well aware of that fact. He interrupts his narrative to explain what cats were really like at the time, and to note that Tiny–who looks and acts like one of the many housecats that populate Brown’s Cats Are Weird and Cat Getting Out of a Bag comics collections save for a little pair of fangs–is purely a product of his imagination.

Brown interrupts his narrative a lot, actually, usually by using a pair of modern day scientist characters who regularly appear to explain to readers what we know about Neanderthals and their world, and how we know what we know. His comic is an educational one, then, but it hardly reads like a lecture. Lucy and Andy and their families go through the day-to-day difficulties of survival–securing food, making stone tools, hunting mammoth, gathering medicinal plants, making clothes and, ultimately, coming face to face with a band of their evolutionary rivals, Homo sapiens–but Brown builds amusing stories around these tasks, and his characters are charming and well-rounded enough that their reactions to their various undertakings and challenges make them fun companions to spend time with.

Andy is desperate to be perceived as a grown-up and participate in the mammoth hunts…until he witnesses one, after which he decides to become a vegetarian. He’s bullied by one teen and has a crush on the other. The pragmatic Lucy is full of ideas, seemingly inventing things like fiction story-telling and art on the fly.

Brown’s artwork remains as strong as ever, if not stronger. He’s been able to maintain his simple, dashed-off, even occasionally crude-looking design style–his mammoths in particular look like the work of a self-taught, even amateur artist in design–even as his mastery of the fundamentals of comic book storytelling and character “acting” gets stronger and stronger.

There are relatively few cartoonists working today who are as prolific as Brown while being as proficient in so many genres and appealing to so many different audiences. Here’s hoping the legions of young fans of his winning Star Wars work will follow him to Lucy and Andy Neanderthal; it’s the sort of high-quality work that deserves the attention of just about everyone’s eyeballs.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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