Jim Zub, Joel Carroll and Andrew Elder’s “Li’l Sonja” is a simple but fun done-in-one story about Li’l Sonja rescuing kidnapped redheads from a local dragon. Though charming and adorably illustrated, the story itself could use some punch, a few more jokes, or a second layer to keep readers engaged.
Zub’s story is perfectly suitable for the young readers it aims for, but the story is fairly shallow with few real attempts at humor. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a story aimed solely at kids, but it’s always nice when all-ages books can find that balance between appealing to kids and also layering in something a little more complex for older readers. The best all-ages stories manage this and unfortunately “Li’l Sonja” does not work on multiple levels, just the one. But that doesn’t stop it from being endearing and lovely just the same.
Carroll’s art is adorable and perfectly fitting for Zub’s simple story. The cartooning is effortlessly clear and Carroll does what little he can with the few visual jokes he has available to him — like putting flames inside Sonja’s eyes to show her frustration with the villagers, and fun body language and facial expression for Sonja. Additionally Carroll’s design for Sonja, a frequently sexualized character in her regular form, is perfect. Her costume is a great nod to the “real” Sonja while feeling perfectly appropriate for this version. Elder’s colors are perhaps the best element of the entire book, as they have a bright pop to them in all the daylight scenes, but have wonderful subdued blue hues for the nighttime scenes. Roger Langridge and Elder also provide a two-page full color activity sheet.
Cute goes a long way with an all-ages book of this kind, and the story is fun enough, but there’s not much to encourage a second read. In the end, “Li’l Sonja” #1 proves to be charming, but ultimately forgettable.