Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Musnet, Bird Boy Vol. 1, and Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon

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Big Blue Marble


This month, Gwen and Andy take listeners on a worldwide tour featuring adventures of various cultures in three books: Musnet: The Mouse of Monet by Kickliy (Uncivilized Books/Odod), Anne Szabla’s Bird Boy Volume 1: The Sword of Mali Mahi (Dark Horse Books), and Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon by Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt (Dark Horse Books).

Before they get to the books, Andy and Gwen both regret not being able to attend HeroesCon, but Gwen gives a brief (and very interesting) report from her recent experience at the Children’s Literature Association Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Who knows? Maybe the Two People with PhDs Talking about Comics for Young Readers will both be there next year?

Gwen and Andy are always excited to see more comics translated into English, and Kickliy’s Musnet: The Mouse of Monet is now available in French and English editions. Both enjoyed the leisurely storytelling and the wonderful use of color in this story of a mouse named Mus who longs to paint like a master artist. This first volume of a projected four-volume series introduces us to Mus’s world in Giverny, France, his teacher, his new friend Mya, and the world of painting. This book will appeal especially to young readers (ages 8 and up) who show an interest not just in painting, but in any of the arts. The look and pace of the book may take some getting used to for young readers, especially if this is their first venture into European comics, but the venture is certainly worth taking.

Next, Gwen and Andy discuss Bird Boy Volume 1: The Sword of Mali Mahi, which began (and continues) as a webcomic by Anne Szabla. This book (suggested for ages 8-12) contains familiar elements of quest/adventure stories, yet it has the feel of something both fresh and ancient. Szabla combines elements of myth and legend from a great many sources — Mayan, Norse, Northwest Native American, etc. — to tell the story of Bali, a 10-year-old boy birdboy_interiordesperate to prove his worth to his tribe despite being small in stature. Although considered too little to participate in an important coming-of-age ceremony, Bali takes matters into his own hands and discovers a dangerous secret that’s been kept hidden for ages.

Gwen and Andy love the story and can’t say enough about the fabulous art and use of color, yet they wish that the creator and publisher had given readers some information about the cultural influences reflected in the book. (Perhaps they will in the second volume, which comes out later this summer.) Still, Bird Boy is an exciting, unique new series that the two look forward to exploring further.

Finally, Gwen and Andy could not stop singing the praises of Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon by Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt. Although suggested for ages 8-12, this is a book that can be enjoyed and appreciated by much older readers…even those with PhDs! Ten-year-old Poppy Pepperton and her legal guardian Colt Winchester are explorers working for a 4,000-year-old Egyptian pharaoh with the body of an eight-year-old boy. The pharaoh sends Poppy and Colt on an adventure that would make Indiana Jones think twice, a story filled with danger, mystery, riddles, puzzles, a flying carpet, a mummy head that talks, a creature called a gigantipus, and more!

Poppy! is truly a book of wonder, reflected not only in characters we quickly come to love and care about, but also in its fantastic art and glorious use of watercolor. And although Poppy! is an enormously entertaining book filled with humor, it also speaks to issues of the environment and the preservation of natural habitats without getting preachy or didactic. It’s pretty safe to say this is one of Gwen and Andy’s favorite books so far in 2016.



Comics Alternative, Webcomics: Reviews of Plox, Bird Boy, and The Mouth

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New Blood

This August episode of the webcomics series begins with an introduction to Sean Kleefeld, the new cohost of the show. With Andy W. deciding to step down from his duties — he’ll be doing other exciting things with The Comics Alternative in the weeks to come! — Derek has asked Sean to step in and join him for the guys’  monthly look at webcomics. So listeners of the series can now benefit from Sean’s discerning critical eye and deep expertise in the medium. In fact, all of the titles that they are discussing this month stem from Sean’s recommendations. They begin with Steve Hamaker’s Plox, a BirdBoyCovercurrently ongoing series centered on the relationships among three online gamers. While the premise may appear at first glance to be hackneyed, a satiric look at gaming geeks and fanboys/girls, this narrative is anything but. In fact, Hamaker’s focus is more on the dynamics of identity formation and interpersonal relations than it is on pop culture stereotypes. One of the themes woven throughout the series (so far) is the discrepancy between our public persona and the ways we define ourselves from within, and how that tension reveals a search for authenticity. Next Sean and Derek look at mouth-coverBird Boy, a fantasy/adventure series from Anne Szabla. This is the coming-of-age story of Bali, a young and diminutive would-be hunter whose inadvertent heroism — and the accidental discovery of a legendary sword — plunges him headlong into his tribe’s creation myth. The guys comment not only on Szabla’s beautifully detailed art, but also on her keen sense of pacing, how she sequences her panels to give depth to the action. Beginning in October 2010, this webcomic that is currently into its second volume. Finally, the guys look at an already completed work, Brendan Albetski’s The Mouth. This is a short work that can be found on Hell to Breakfast, the home to the Albetski’s online art as well as his podcast, The Hell to Breakfast Show. On the surface The Mouth is the story of three siblings who venture into the forest for an unlikely, and gothic-inspired, revelation. However, densely packed within this brief webcomic is a meditative, philosophical exploration — Sean calls it zen-like — exploring the very process and purpose of life. All three of this month’s webcomics are worth checking out, and the guys’ detailed discussion of them is just the right springboard for what promises to be a new and fruitful cohosting relationship.