MAYBERRY MELONPOOL: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL
As part of his grand scheme to take over the world, Steve Troop is unleashing an original graphic novel upon an unsuspecting populace. Your first chance to see it will be at his table at the Comic-Con International: San Diego. The cast of characters from MAYBERRY MELONPOOL star in "Melonpool: The Wrath of the Con." It's the first 27 pages of the upcoming graphic novel, which won't be complete and in stores near you until later in the fall. It also needs to be stressed that this is a work in progress. Even the version I have in my hands might change around somewhat before San Diego rolls around next month.
If you've never read the on-line comic strip before, you've got two choices, really. There have been two book collections of the strip published. I've reviewed them both favorably in this space in the past. The books are well produced and give you a fairly thorough collection of the strip, along with plenty of background info and behind the scenes stories.
Your second choice is to visit the web site, peruse the archives, visit the message board, and read up a storm.
The third of two choices is to buy this book. (Hey, I went to school for Computer Science. The math was an unfortunate speed bump along the way.) The graphic novel is meant to not just tell a large-scale Melonpool story, but to also introduce the characters for new readers. Troop is doing this well in the first act of the novel, which is really what this preview edition is. For $3, you can get a sample of what the strip is like, a peek into what the story is going to be, and a fair chance at deciding if this is for you or not.
Mayberry Melonpool is the story of a small group of aliens who have landed on the planet earth and now attempt to not be seen by the humans who might fear and mock them. Their lives are heavily influence by pop culture, most notably all things science fiction and sci fi, from Star Trek to X-Files to Independence Day. It's a humorously entertaining strip that will no doubt have you laughing out loud when it pokes fun of the particular fandom you might associate yourself with. If you're a member of the Cult of William Shatner, there's a really special cameo in this book...
Looking back over the first two compilation books, it's easy to see how Steve Troop's style has changed. Originally, the third book was going to be a collection of the aborted MAYBERRY MELONPOOL series from Image nearly eight years ago. After the first issue, the last three were shelved and never seen. Given the change in his style, though, this proved to be a step backwards. Work progressed on the graphic novel. Unfortunately, it couldn't be completed in time for San Diego this year, so the Con Special will be available instead.
The characters have gotten more comfortable in their own skins and, general speaking, cuter. It's a tough set of characters to draw. While their bodies are pretty standard, their heads and the way they connect to their bodies can often be an imaginative journey. Some of the awkwardness of the character design stems from those wacky heads, but you get used to it after awhile. Troop's style also can sometimes lend to a bit of confusion, as characters close to one another blend together.
Troop needs to work on two things in this book. The first is his inking. It's uniformly thick. When you're drawing a comic book, as opposed to a strip, there's a whole new visual element added to the storytelling. That's the illusion of depth. Characters have to be drawn one in front of the other. With a skilled inking technique, this isn't a problem. But if you can't judge depth from line weight, you could get in trouble and the problem with characters melding together gets a little more bothersome. The good news is that there's a lot of work being shown here that Troop is adapting his comic strip characters for the comic book page. Everything is not flat and straight on. The characters move both left and right as well as forward and backward. The camera angles move up and down, also.
The other thing Troops needs more time to experiment with is the gray tones. This book is his first real use of them with Melonpool. It's a tricky process to learn. The gray portions should either dominate, or not be seen at all. Troop seems a little iffy on the process still, and alternates between using it and not using it from panel to panel. To be sure, there are some wonderful uses of it. The nighttime scenes in the parking lot and the opening X-Files homage make great use of the grays to convey the darker mood. In other scenes, though, it just sticks out and doesn't add much. Troop's art can carry itself. While color would be a great addition to the book – prohibitive costs preclude that – the art can work well on its own. It doesn't necessarily need the gray tones. Maybe it's just the case of the artist not trusting in his artwork.
But the bottom line is that this book is cute and tons of fun. The characters are interesting to look at and have their own personality quirks and back stories. The stories are best built for an audience of genre fans, but I think a lot of it could pass muster with non-genre fans. They'll get lost on some of the Shatner appreciation and the guest cameo of the punk from STAR TREK IV who shows up on the bus bench. But Troop's influences are varied. He also did a wonderful "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" parody piece with the Melonpool characters that shows up in the second book. He changed the character designs to match Dr. Seuss' style with flair.
If you happen to be in San Diego this year, make sure to stop by the table for some of the infectious enthusiasm the Melonpool puppets will bring. It's become my con tradition to be the first table I visit on Thursday morning.
AMELIA RULES! #1
…is the best Nickelodeon comic book I've read in a long time. OK, it's not a licensed Nick comic. There's no accompanying cartoon for this book at all on cable television. At least, not yet. But Amelia Rules! is a book that deserves to be given to the little kid next door or the little cousin in the next town, or read with a child of your own. But you can't help but get the feeling from reading Jimmy Gownley's book that the series could charm the same audience.
The book itself has 32 full color pages of story. It's broken up into three shorter stories, varying from a page to 11 pages, along with bridging sequences. It's all stories of Amelia, a terrific little girl from a broken home, currently living with her mother at her hottie Aunt Tanner's place. Amelia has adventures in the neighborhood with her friends, from playing super-hero to freeze tag. Those include the arch-nemesis Rhonda, the boy next door, Reggie, and his friend known only as "Pajamaman." These are kids with pretty simple and straight-on personalities. It's easy to follow and fun to read. Along with the action and humor and hijinks, the issue's ending is one of the sweetest ones I've ever seen in comics. It's worth the price of admission alone for that last page or two.
Gownley letters his own stuff. It's not a computer font, thank goodness. A story that's this organic and skewed this young would just look horrible if set behind a computer-generated lettering font. Plus, this gives Gownley the unrestricted ability to vary his style at will. There are lots of fluctuations in the lettering as the characters speak, including bold letters, larger block lettering, and a nice combination of dialogue with and without balloons around it.
The book is published by Renaissance Press. (I'm not sure if that's Gownley's own company or not. The web page is still under some pretty heavy construction.) The pages of the book are shiny, but really thin. For $2.50 for a full-color 32-page comic, though, I'm not complaining. The second issue was solicited in the most recent PREVIEWS and should be available in August.
If you like HEROBEAR AND THE KID or ZOOM'S ACADEMY or ALISON DARE, I think you'll like this book. AMELIA RULES! is the next must-read comic book for kids. Oh, and the adults will be charmed by it, too.
SHADES OF BLUE #1
…is something I really really wanted to like. The PREVIEWS ads looked sharp. The concept seemed sound. It was a book worth a shot.
I picked up a second printing of the first issue in the store this week and I'm still not sure of it. To put it succinctly: the writing is sharp, but the art is painful.
The story: Heidi is a teenage girl with blue hair and the gift of electricity. The story from James S. Harris and Rachel Nacion is told entirely from Heidi's point of view, complete with first person narration caption boxes. She's really likeable. She's an outcast and very sarcastic. You want to root for her. This first issue's story is 16 pages and sets up Heidi's world, complete with the cookie-cutter distracted parents, the best friend, the teacher from hell, and all the rest of the teenaged experiences. It's not angst-filled, though, in the least. Heidi seems to be completely in control of herself and her life. She's not spending the issue whining about everything around her. She makes her jokes, cuts people down that deserve it, and reacts quickly to situations. The story is short and only starts to get moving just as it ends. It's more of a "Day In The Life Of…" thing. It's enough to make you want to read the second issue.
The art from Greg Grucel is painful. It's all Photoshopped up to include gray tones to try to cover for some of the artistic failings and, even worse, to throw the Whizbang lettering font in the word balloons. Proportions are all over the place, the backgrounds are a mixed bag from bad to worse, and the storytelling often seems to suffer from the artist's attempt to keep the panel as easy as possible to draw.
The backup six-page story is completely unrelated, but will no doubt blend into the second issue. It's the story of Miss White, who's destined to be Heidi's new teacher. She's doing a little apartment shopping and flashing back at the same time. The writing is competent here. It's not overly bloated. It gets the background set up, without launching into too many long speeches. It moves quickly enough.
The art from Roy Park attempts to be more realistic, particularly in the character designs. It works on that level, although it has its own series of issues with being awkward, posed, and sometimes unnatural looking. There's one panel of Miss White on the last page holding a cell phone that looks like she's putting her fist to her jaw and the phone is just taped on top. Really odd.
Three issues of the series are out now, with a fourth shortly on the way. I think this might work really well as a mini-comic or some underground thing or some web comic. I'm not sure the full-size comic book approach works for it. But the writing is sharp enough that I'll probably suffer through the art for another issue or two to see if the story goes anywhere. Heck, I've suffered through worse. (See RISING STARS, for instance.)
The good news is that the artist position in the comic is set to be a rotating one. The third issue has art by Cal Slayton, as will the fourth. Judging from his web site, it looks like things will be looking much better. (In fact, he's got the entire third issue's art up on his web site. It's a definite step towards outright cartooniness, but it's more consistent and much easier on the eyes than the first issue. He's got some really nice pin-ups in there, too.)
More information on the series, including web strips, can be found at www.ampcomics.com.
Now that I've reviewed this, of course, I have to go read Michael Brennan's ELECTRIC GIRL to compare and contrast… The more you read, the more you find to read. It's not such a bad deal, though.
I'll be back on Tuesday with a look at a couple of the books due out on Wednesday, and maybe one or two others left behind from this week.
More than 225 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
This year, you can still catch me at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). I'm also tentatively scheduled for a day at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this September.