BUZZWORTHYJay Hosler's CLAN APIS trade paperback collection was published this week. The original five-issue mini-series came out about a year ago, partially funded by a Xeric Foundation grant. Hosler, himself, is a Ph.D. of bees, so he knows what he's talking about.
CLAN APIS tracks the birth, life, and death of a single member of society - a bee named Nyuki. That's right, the 150 pages or so of the story are devoted to following a single bee through her life. The art style is very cartoony, the lettering is done on a computer, and the book is black and white.
It's also one of the most enchanting, educational, entertaining, and enlightening books I've read in a long time. You would have to guess the odds are stacked up against Hosler from the start. First of all, nobody likes bees. The second you see one on the street or in your background, you flinch away from one, don't you? So why would you want to pick up a book literally covered in them?
Secondly, it's a smart book. You'll learn a lot about the life of bees here.
Third, it's not a super-hero book. Heck, it's anthropomorphic. Talking bees! And we all remember what happened to the books featuring talking ducks, don't we? (Reminder: They haven't been published in a year and a half.)
Egad, what was Hosler thinking? I don't know what it was, but this all does work beautifully together.
One of the first challenges with this book is to separate the main characters from the rest of the pack. A beehive is a place swarming (pun intended) with activity and hundreds of bees. How do you isolate one properly, and give her enough identifying characters that the reader would be able to pick her out in a crowd? The story basically revolves around two sister bees, Nyuki and Dvorah. To keep them straight, Dvorah has one broken antennae that you will come to rely on to identify her when the two are together. The other way to do it is to ensure that each character has a unique personality. Nyuki is a hyperactive bee caught trying to understand the world she's in. Her enthusiasm and occasional fright come to be her trademarks. As such, this hyperactive needlessly didactic demeanor, at least, can readily identify her character. (It's needless in that he other bees know all about it. It's crucial for those of us reading the story to fully understand things.)
It also proves to be a nice way to put in the educational material. The easy way to do this book would have been to make a straight-faced, serious documentary type of comic, with some third-person narration over the images explaining everything that went on. Instead, Hosler trots out the old chestnut about following the new kid's first day at school so that the reader learns everything along with the new kid. However, there's a twist to it. It's not just learning as the character learns. After all, some of this stuff is just instinct for the bee. There's also a lot of character in the bee who leads the story, as it is her hyperactive "thrilled to be here" tendencies that have her barking out pieces of odd information at odd times. Some of the other characters in the story even make fun of her for this later in the story.
Don't think that the story is lost for all this informational output. Believe it or not, you will come to root for little Nyuki. She gets in trouble, she gets lost, she grows old, she dies. And you feel it every step of the way. Heck, you might even be putting a smile on her face in your mind as you read along on her adventures. Hosler's enthusiasm for his work can be quite contagious at times.
The bees themselves are anthropomorphized so far as they are given hands. They aren't changed to look like humans with black and yellow circles around their abdomen. These are still pretty closely related insects to their real world counterpoints. The thorax and the legs are all kept intact, as are the heads -- that last part is especially commendable, since it's so tough to draw various facial expressions on a bee's face.
The storytelling combines straightforward sequential art in a grid format along with some more surreal and fitting graphics, which more closely resemble graphic design than sequential art. The opening sequence of the first issue, for example, explains the Big Bang as seen from the bee's perspective as a flower opening its petals and letting the pollen fly. Other layouts center on the geometry of a beehive and the petals of a flower, for two examples. It's done really well, without throwing off the reader in any way. It looks nice on its own, but still preserves the flow of the story.
The book is rounded out by a few pages of factual tidbits about the lives of bees, and an additional short autobiographical story of Hosler's bee allergy. For $15, it's a great book, packed with lots of interesting things, and a fun read. This is the kind of book you might want to be giving to your little cousins who have an interest in science that you might like to introduce to the world of sequential art.
For more info on Jay Hosler - the man, the myth, the legend, the cartoonist - visit his website, so cleverly URL'ed jayhosler.com.
And if you ever run across his COW BOY comic book, pick that one up, too. It's pretty good stuff. I have it here somewhere. If I can ever find it, I'll be sure to review it. =)