Under-the-radar comics, Part 3 - Won't someone think of the children?!?

For my last group of reviews of books from the past couple of months that you might have missed, I want to look at comics that are good for children.  I've heard that the children are our future, and I'd like to teach them well so they can lead the way.  I'm just sappy like that!

Book the First is Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery, written by Dave Roman and illustrated by various people.  It costs $10.95 and comes to us from the fine folk at SLG.

Agnes Quill is a neat little book that could easily work as an ongoing.  It certainly works as a collection of short stories, which this is.  The heroine is a 16-year-old who talks to ghosts.  Using this ability, she solves crimes.  Wouldn't you?  The stories are set in the city of Legerdemain, which is built around a huge cemetery and is haunted by all manner of spirits.  She's an orphan, and lives in her grandfather's castle, the ground floor of which has been turned into a store called The New Curiosity Shop, run by Mr. Lorik.  Legerdemain is a Victorian nightmare, full of cobblestone streets and factories with tall chimneys and creepy back alleys.  It's the kind of place I'd like to live, actually - it looks neat.

There are two long stories in the book, and both are interesting and ghoulish without being horribly inappropriate for children.  In the first, Agnes is hired to find a man's missing legs.  He was part of a magician's stage show, got sawed in half, only he really was sawn in half.  When the doctors try to reattach, they all lose consciousness and the legs disappear.  Agnes actually does what a detective should do, and that's interview everyone involved.  The case is not that difficult, but it's nice to see a detective story in which the trail is followed logically (I'm looking at you, Batman writers!).  In the second story, we begin with Agnes taking care of some zombies (which leads to the best line in the book: "Because really, some people just deserve to get eaten by zombies") and then getting involved in a case that deals with the city's power outages and men who live deep underground.  In between are two shorter stories, one relatively charming, and the other kind of creepy, belied by its goofy art.  At the end of the book we get text pieces about the characters and then "excerpts" from Agnes' diary, which is about how she arrives in the city and realizes that she can see ghosts.

This is a very nice book, and it's packed with a lot of content for 11 dollars.  The art ranges from the absolutely dynamic to a more subdued and playful style.  Both Jason Ho and Jeff Zornow, who illustrate the two longer stories, have a great sense of atmosphere for the creepy city in which Agnes lives, as well as a lot of flair and attention to detail.  Agnes' world is unsettling and even a bit scary, but Ho and Zornow do a nice job keeping the utter malevolence out of it.  Legerdemain is a city like any others, with bad parts and good parts.  The fact that it's haunted just makes it more interesting.

This book is much more suited for a teen audience, but it's still enjoyable if you're an adult.  Maybe I'm just immature at heart, but I had a grand time reading it.  It would be nice to see more volumes devoted to Agnes, because she's an interesting character and can be used in a variety of stories.

Anyway, SLG is having a 25% off sale right now!  So if you want this, check out their web site and order away!



Up next is Ed's Terrestrials, which is written by Scott Christian Sava and drawn by Diego Jourdan.  It's published by Blue Dream Studios and costs $19.95.

This and the next book arrived in the mail recently, and I appreciate the people at Blue Dream for sending them to me.  This is a fun book, which should appeal to younger kids - my kids aren't 8-10 yet, so I don't know if that's the age group for the book, but the hero is in elementary school, so that's probably the target audience!

The story is fairly simple.  Marcello, Gus, and Al, three aliens (that's them on the cover), are being pursued by a mean-looking space ship in a rather pathetic ship of their own.  They are shot down and crash land in the tree house of Ed, the kid on the cover, who's busy reading comic books.  In the morning, his tree house looks fine, but when he goes inside, he meets the aliens.  They tell him they lived on a planet that is entirely a food court, and there they were forced to work endlessly, with no hope of anything else.  So they escaped and they want to bring others to Earth so they can be free.  Complicating this is the bad guy, Maximus Obliterus, who arrives on Earth and teams up with Natalie, a spoiled brat in Ed's class, who wants aliens of her own!  With the help of three other aliens who are brought to Earth, our heroes defeat the bad guy and make Natalie pay ... Punisher-style!  Oh, of course not - it's a kid's book, for crying out loud!

This is a perfectly charming book.  It zips along, never pausing as it teaches the lesson that it's okay to dream big and be whoever who want to be in life.  The lessons aren't complicated, but they are important, and Sava makes his points without preaching.  Jourdan's art is goofy and colorful, and it has nice manic energy that keeps up with the story.  I thought it was interesting that Natalie actually looks menacing in some panels.  She's the real bad guy in the story, not Maximus Obliterus, and Jourdan does a nice job showing her in a bad light, so kids will know that she's spoiled and that ain't good (of course, it's the parents' fault if she's spoiled, but let's not get into that now!).

A fun read.  It's not aimed at me, of course, but I'm keeping it so I can read it to the kids in a few years.  They'd probably like it right now because it's so colorful.  Who doesn't like bright colors?  Commies, that's who - they like the drab grays!


Finally, we have Book One of The Dreamland Chronicles, which is written and drawn (sort of) by Scott Christian Sava.  I put "sort of" because the entire thing is rendered on computer, which I'll get to.  This is also from Blue Dream Studios and also cost $19.95.

This is a big honking book.  It's 300 pages, which means it's pretty darned good value for your money.  But is it any good?  Well, it's targeted to a teen audience - the main character is a 20-year-old college student - but it's a nice enough read.  It draws on a lot of the themes of the fantasy genre, but that's okay - if a writer does something well, it doesn't matter if it's familiar to us.

Alex, our hero, used to visit a place called Dreamland when he slept.  The last time he was there, when he was 12, he pulled a sword out of a stone (yes, he really does) and disturbed a mean ol' dragon, but that was long ago.  Now he's trying to get extra credit at school and that means participating in a sleep/dream study.  He finds a sword necklace in some childhood stuff, and this allows him to dream again.  When he returns to Dreamland, he finds that his childhood friends have grown up, which he finds weird.  His friend Kiwi the fairy tells him that Dreamland is a real place, so of course they grew up.  His other friend Paddington Rumblebottom the Third is a huge rock giant, and his third friend, Nastajia, has (shocking!) become a hot Elf girl who is ruling the Elves because her parents disappeared.  It turns out the sword that Alex has (his necklace becomes the sword when he's dreaming) is the Sword of Kings, and that Dreamland has always been ruled by a human.  The current king is Nicodemus, who's not human.  No prizes if you guess who he is!  The four friends must go on a Quest to find Nastajia's parents and free the kingdom.  Yes, it's Questing time!

There's a lot going on in this book.  None of the fantasy aspects are terribly original, but the familiarity makes us easier to accept it, because we feel comfortable wandering around Dreamland with Alex and his friends.  It's an nice adventure with some fun moments, some menacing moments, but nothing that makes us think Alex and his friends are in any real danger.  But that's okay.  For a boring old adult like me, the most interesting parts of the book are when Alex is awake.  He rooms with his brother, Dan, who tries to figure out what exactly is going on in Dreamland, because they both have the suspicion that it's a real place.  Alex also hits on the head of the dream study, Nicole, who's having none of it.  The "real world" sequences are more drab than the dream sequences, of course, but Sava isn't telling a standard adventure story in them - he's looking at dreams and what they mean and what, exactly, they are.  In this kind of book, the sections when Alex is awake drag a bit, but Sava keeps them short, and what is going on is pretty interesting, even if it's not as flashy.

Then there's the art.  It is generated completely by computer, and Sava does a nice job at the back of the book going over the process from storyboarding to finished product.  It takes some getting used to, and it's not completely to my taste, but it's still kind of interesting to look at.  The art is weaker in the "real world" sections, probably because this kind of art lends itself well to brightness and spectacle, which is what we get in Dreamland.  Some of the action sequences - when Nastajia fights pirates, for instance - are a bit static, but overall, the book has a nice look, bold and vibrant.  It's certainly not something I want to see all the time, but it's unusual enough that I don't mind it here.  The biggest problem I have with the art is not the way Sava creates it, but that everyone has those dumb hairstyles that make them look like they should be on that Laguna Beach show on MTV.  I guess that's how the kids are doing their hair these days!

The other problem I have with the book is that it's Part One.  After 300 pages, it's still just a lot of introductory stuff.  I imagine things will pick up now, but it seems strange that we needed so long to get to the point.  It's not like this is terribly complicated, and although it's nice to see Sava taking his time and creating the characters, as I read this, I kept wanting him to speed up a bit.  The hook - the Quest for Nastajia's parents and Alex's possession of the sword, as well as the confrontation with Nicodemus that comes at the end - is fine, but it makes me wonder how many people are going to want to get another volume of this, because it's taken so long to get to the point where the story can really begin.  We'll see.

This is a pretty good book for young teens, I would think.  I have little experience with young teens, but it feels like the kind of book they would like.  I could be wrong.  But it's a book that, while not perfect, has some nice storytelling in it and some interesting art.  If you're in the mood for some fantasy to share with your kids, you could do a lot worse!

You can buy Ed's Terrestrials and The Dreamland Chronicles at Amazon, here and here.



There you have it - comics for kids of all ages!  Aren't comics neat?

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