Robot reviews: Adventures in Cartooning

Adventures in Cartooningby James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick FrostFirst Second, $12.95.

Adventures in Cartooning is First Second's attempt to offer a kids' version last year's big how-to book, Drawing Words, Writing Pictures. Produced by Center for Cartoon Studies' co-founder James Sturm and two of his former students, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick Frost, it's an engaging and informative book that nevertheless feels like it sacrifices learning for fun.

The book begins by offering a few words of encouragement about one's drawing abilities, and then introduces us to a helmeted knight who wishes to save a princess from a deadly dragon, but doesn't know how to go about doing so. Enter the Magic Cartooning Elf, who promises to help the knight on his quest if he can blather on about sequential art along the way.

The authors attempt to incorporate cartooning basics while telling the story, and there are some inspired moments, such as when they show you can juxtapose different backgrounds to depict motion or when the elf underscores the relationship between text and images after coming across a wall "ten miles high and a thousand miles long."

So yes, there's some useful information (vertical panels suggest depth, place your word balloons in left to right order to be read clearly) but overall the focus seems to be on the story itself, which, while amusing, is something of a slight affair. The same off the cuff, "hey, what happens next" atmosphere that adds to the book's charm also makes it feel a bit inconsequential.

Overall, I just wish more lessons had been incorporated into the tale. The authors deliberately evoke the work of children's author Ed Emberly, especially in the stick figure art style, but Emberly crammed his how-to books with information as well as fun. Adventures, on the other hand, uses an awful lot of white space. Why not, for example, include some Emberly-like drawing tips in the margins?

Part of me kind of hopes this is merely the first volume in what will be an ongoing series. There's certainly a lot more to comics that kids can explore. Adventures is a cute and entertaining book, and I'm sure kids will enjoy it, but I wish function had followed form a bit more closely. As a teaching tool it falls a little flat.

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