Sunday, January 21, 2007

Graphic novel hybrids

Once upon a time, there were comic books. Then comic books grew up and became graphic novels. Up to now, I'm sorry to say that I haven't paid too much attention to graphic novels. I love books; I love to lose myself in a story and to grow to love (or hate!) characters who begin to seem like real people to me. And I understand that graphic novels can do these things, too, but I just don't have the patience for them. It just seems to take too long to develop a story and characters when I have to puzzle over those little pictures, and I certainly can't lose myself in the story.

Now, graphic novels have crossed the line - the line between graphic novels and text novels, I mean. A new kind of book has emerged - graphic novel hybrids. These books intersperse graphic novel sections with text novel sections to tell a story in both words and pictures. Three of these graphic novel hybrids were nominated for the Cybils in the fantasy and science fiction category (actually, two were moved over from other categories). I found it to be an interesting medium with potential to encourage reluctant readers and visual learners to read more. It's still not a format that I'd read by choice, but I enjoyed reading the three hybrids that were Cybils nominees. I took a look at Abadazad Book 1: The Road to Inconceivable in an earlier review, and in this post I'll take a look at the other two.

Agent Boo

by Alex De Campi and Edo Fuijkschot

Boo is a fourth-grader, and one of the smallest girls in the school. So when Book is chosen to be an Agent, the guardians of the multiverse, it's a surprise to everyone, including her. Boo struggles in Agent training because of her size, so when Queen Misery attacks and the Agents go off to fight her, Boo is left behind. But Queen Misery attacks the Agent's Aerie instead, and Boo and her cat companion Pumpkin are left to defend the Aerie by themselves.

Agent Boo appears to be aimed at a younger audience than the others in this category. Its futuristic adventure story and cute, kid-friendly manga style illustrations, should appeal to the target audience. The theme that anybody can achieve greatness, regardless of size, age or abilities, is promising. I was disappointed, however, that the climax of the story didn't live up to the promise of the theme; I expected Boo to give Queen Misery a good butt-kicking, Home Alone style, but instead Boo saves the day with the help of a deus ex machina, a resolution that I found unsatisfying.

Travels of Thelonious

by Susan Schade and Jon Buller

Travels of Thelonius is a lovely book and definitely the best of the graphic novel hybrids we saw for the Cybils. It's the story of a post-apocalyptic world where humans have disappeared and there are civilizations of talking, thinking animals. Thelonious is a chipmunk who lives in the forest but longs for adventure; he is fascinated with the legendary humans. When Thelonious is swept away from home in a storm, he finds a ruined human city populated by animals. A porcupine named Fitzgerald, who collects ancient books, takes Thelonious under his wing and shows him the ways of the city. The two of them meet a bear named Olive who is building a flying machine. Together the three of them, along with a stowaway, take off for adventure to find the Fog Mound, Olive's lost home.

Everything about this book was well done. The story is interesting and the characters are fairly well-developed. The color illustrations are beautiful and add value to the story. Visually-oriented kids will love this book, and it's a great book to read aloud to younger children. It's not a perfect book; some questions are left unanswered and things are left open for a sequel. I found the little human that they find to be particularly irritating. Who is he, why is he so small, and why can't he talk? He seemed to have no purpose in the story other than to be some kind of reverse pet. But generally I thought it was very good, and it came very close to making it onto the shortlist for the fantasy and science fiction Cybils award.

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