In today’s Stack Overflow, I catch up on some comics! Most of these aren’t brand-new, but they’re ones that I’ve just read recently. I’ve got mostly some funny kids’ graphic novels, along with a few for older readers toward the end.
Varmints by Andy Hirsch
Opie (short for Calliope) and Ned are just two kids trying to track down their Pa in the wild west. Or maybe you should call it the wacky west, because this world is filled with some outlandish characters. There’s the humongous man wearing a grizzly bear skin (whose horse they “borrow”), the staff of the fancy hotel that immediately falls in love with little Ned, the contestants of the dirty derby with their creative modes of transportation. And there’s Opie and Ned. Opie has taken it upon herself to care for Ned, and she’s hiding some secrets from him. Ned is just a kid–he’s annoying and causes a lot of trouble, but he also just wants Opie to trust him sometimes.
The book is goofy and action-packed, and Andy Hirsch’s illustrations are a lot of fun. (You may recognize Hirsch’s work from Science Comics: Dogs.) I think my favorite part may have been the dirty derby, a no-holds-barred race through the desert, with the grand prize being a private audience with the biggest crime lord in the west. Or maybe the scene on the train with the Pinkerton detectives and a car full of criminals. At any rate, it’s a fun adventure for middle grade readers and up.
Cucumber Quest 2: The Ripple Kingdom by Gigi D.G.
In this second volume in the delightful Cucumber Quest series (see here for more about volume 1), Cucumber wakes up on the shore of the Ripple Kingdom, where he soon meets Princess Nautilus. Princess Nautilus is extremely excited to meet Cucumber, because it is her life’s work to pass along important information to the legendary hero … though she can’t seem to remember all of it. No matter! The important thing is to defeat Splashmaster, the giant squid who has kidnapped Sir Carrot and Almond, and then move on to the other Disaster Masters … whom Nautilus can’t quite remember at the moment.
As in the first volume, this book is quite silly and very entertaining. I love the way that it plays with the “Chosen One” trope, and the way that the various characters just don’t behave the way that you’d expect them to in a typical fantasy story. Be sure to read all the fun extras after the end of the story, too! (Cucumber Quest will be released on February 27.)
Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy: Disco Fever by Doug Savage
Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy are back! Laser Moose is a moose who can shoot lasers out of his eyes, standing vigilant to protect the forest from evildoers. Rabbit Boy is, well, a rabbit. In this volume, Laser Moose is convinced that a chickadee he’s been following is an evil mastermind … though so far he doesn’t have any actual evidence. He just knows it to be true.
And shortly thereafter—in a series of events that may or may not have been planned by this purportedly evil chickadee—Laser Moose faces something he has never seen before: disco balls. It turns out that tiny mirrors are not something you can defeat by shooting lasers at them, so Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy have to think fast, especially when their nemesis Cyborgupine returns.
Yep, Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy is pretty absurd, but if you’ve got kids who like to laugh, it might be a good choice. (You can read more about the first volume here.)
March Grand Prix: The Fast and the Furriest by Kean Soo
March Hare is a racer, and he’s excited to enter the Harewood Grand Prix, with help from his mechanic friend Hammond. They’ve got a souped-up racing hatchback and March has the skills, but they’re up against some pretty tough competitors. Chief among them is Lyca the fox, the previous world champion who apparently has no weaknesses. She plays dirty and isn’t afraid to rough March up a bit—on a practice lap!
This volume actually includes three stories—March’s first race against Lyca; a story about delivering apple tarts for March’s sister April, who’s a baker; and a desert rally that will test March and Hammond to their limits. The characters are really cute, and the stories tend to teach March (and, maybe, the reader) some valuable life lessons.
Caveboy Dave: More Scrawny Than Brawny by Aaron Reynolds and Phil McAndrew
Caveboy Dave has a bit of a dilemma: it’s only a short time until Baby-Go-Boom, the coming-of-age ritual where all the cavekids are sent out to hunt one of the “big six” and bring back meat for the village … or die trying. But Dave doesn’t want to be a hunter—he wants to be an inventor, like his grandpa (fire) and his dad (the wheel). So far, though, nobody seems to be very impressed with his inventions, and his dad for some reason thinks that he’ll make a great hunter.
When Dave and the rest of the kids finally face a Bloodthirsty Pokeyhorn, they realize that all the things they learned in class don’t really work, and it’s up to Dave to come up with a new plan. Will they survive Baby-Go-Boom? The book is a little boy-centric (the only girl character is Rockie, one of Dave’s friends, who seems like she’s pretty cool but doesn’t really get a lot of opportunities to show it). Caveboy Dave sets the nerd-vs-jock trope in prehistoric times, and (as you might guess) Dave does survive the ritual, but in a somewhat surprising way.
Home Time by Campbell Whyte
I first came across Campbell Whyte’s artwork on Storyteller Cards, a deck of cards that includes lots of different elements like characters, actions, objects, and locations, so that you can use them either as a regular poker deck or as story prompts. He has done a lot of illustration work for various things, but Home Time is his first graphic novel. It follows a group of kids on the last day of school—they’re on their way to a big end-of-the-year sleepover when they fall into the river and wake up … somewhere else. The little beings there refer to the kids as magical spirits, and look to them for guidance and protection from the lizards who threaten their borders. Some of the kids dive into their new roles, while others just want to find their way back home.
You can read some of Home Time at Whyte’s website. One of the fascinating aspects to the book is the way that Whyte switches art styles throughout the book. There are line drawings and pixel art and paintings, along with little artifacts of the children’s time in this other world. Between chapters there are diagrams and maps explaining a little more about the world, or bits of sheet music. This volume is just the first in a planned series—I’m really curious what happens next!
Mech Cadet Yu by Greg Pak, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Triona Farrell
In the world of Mech Cadet Yu, a giant mech showed up from outer space sixty years ago, and formed a bond with a boy scout named Skip Tanaka. Together, the pair became known worldwide, defending the earth from an invasion by the Sharg. Since then, every four years, a new group of giant robots arrives—and now the Sky Corps is there to meet them, presenting them with the best of the cadets.
Stanford Yu is not one of the best of the cadets. He’s a bright-eyed kid who cleans up after the best of the cadets because his mom’s a janitor there. But when the new crop of robots arrives, one of them gets a little lost… and winds up bonding with Stanford instead, much to the chagrin of Cadet Park, who also happens to be the general’s daughter.
The first four issues have been collected into a trade paperback (available exclusively in comic stores), and the fifth issue is out now. I was sent the first four issues to check out, and they’re a lot of fun, even if the story can be a little predictable in places. Stanford’s mech seems to be the weakest of the bunch and Stanford doesn’t really have all the skills the other cadets do. But he’s got heart: he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty helping with repairs himself, unlike the other cadets. And, of course, a bigger crisis appears before the new bunch of cadets is ready.
If you like giant robots fighting giant alien creatures (with a dash of kid-who-doesn’t-fit-in), this comic book series is for you!
The Lion of Rora by Christos Gage, Ruth Fletcher Gage, and Jackie Lewis
How did a farmer lead a band of seven men to drive off a force of six hundred soldiers on horseback? Joshua Janavel was a Waldensian, fighting to defend his village, and became a military tactician praised by Napoleon. The Lion of Rora is a graphic novel account of the struggle of the Waldensians for religious freedom, which helped to inspire the Protestant Reformation. I actually had never heard of the Waldensians and this story before, but I found it fascinating. It’s a David-and-Goliath story, a small movement facing the power of the Catholic church, succeeding against all odds. The Waldensians suffered a lot of losses, but under the leadership of Janavel, they managed to hold off the armies long enough to turn the tide. This book abridges the story of the resistance, which lasted for years, but you get a small taste of some of Janavel’s strategies, along with the faith that motivated him.
Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown
And here’s another subject I didn’t really know much about before: Andy Kaufman. I had just a vague notion of who he was—an actor, somebody who was something of a prankster, and the subject of the Jim Carrey film Man on the Moon (which I still haven’t seen). But aside from that, not much: I hadn’t watched Taxi, and I didn’t know what any of his stunts were.
Well, now there’s this comic book biography of Andy Kaufman, written and illustrated by Box Brown, who also shed light on Andre the Giant and the game of Tetris in his previous books. Through it, we get a fascinating look at Andy Kaufman, from his childhood obsessions with Elvis and wrestling, to his stand-up comedy routine and fame on Taxi, to his faux feud with wrestling Jerry “The King” Lawler. It’s pretty incredible how committed Kaufman was to his jerk personas—this book shows how brilliant and how strange he was.
After reading Is This Guy for Real?, I immediately went and looked up some clips of Kaufman—appearances on Saturday Night Live, Taxi, and so on. It’s a really well-done book that will make you want to know even more. Note to parents: this one’s probably best for older readers, not for kids, because of some of the content.
Well, that’s it for today! I thought I’d add in a section at the end of my Stack Overflows about what I’ve been reading currently—these books may appear in future Stack Overflows!
I finished the third book in the Terrible Two series by Mac Barnett and Jory John—more pranksters, this time during summer break. I’m in the middle of Gnomon by Nick Harkaway, which is like reading four or five novels at once, and is captivating. And I checked out Dune by Frank Herbert from the library because, well, I’ve never read it, and figured maybe it was time.
I received review copies of these titles.