Friday, October 21, 2022

The Comic Book Lesson

A graphic novel that shows you how to make comics
by Mark Crilley
2022 / 156 pages

Emily is a young artist with plans for a comic book - she wants the hero to be a "pet finder" coming to the rescue of any and all who have lost their furry friends. But it's one thing to have a story and the skills to draw it and yet another to know how to transform it into comic book form. So how can she bridge that gap? She just needs the right sort of mentor. What author Mark Crilley has given us is a story showing aspiring cartoonists how they, too, can learn what Emily wants to know – we get to come along for her journey as she meets three talented ladies who are willing to teach.

First up is an encounter at the comic store: Emily discovers that the store clerk, a high schooler named Trudy, is a fantastic artist working on a comic project of her own. Emily's enthusiasm and persistence ensure that one impromptu lesson becomes more. Trudy teaches Emily things like pacing – how including adding a couple more frames can make a scene more dramatic – and how a character's eyebrows communicate more about their emotions than a smile or frown.

Trudy is so impressed with Emily's work that she introduces her to Madeline, a friend who's already a published cartoonist. The lessons Madeline teaches include the importance of a "broad" establishing shot before going in for close-ups, and the need to script a comic before you begin drawing it. Madeline, in turn, introduces Emily to her own cartooning mentor, Sophie, who has yet more to teach Emily, like the proper order for word bubbles, and the need to eliminate any possibilities of confusion.

While I don't like to include spoilers, for the sake of young readers, I'm going to include one. During her time with Sophie, we find out why Emily was so earnest about her hero being a pet finder: because Emily wasn't able to rescue her own dog. Her loss is poignantly told, which made my one daughter sad enough that she stopped reading. I suspect though, that she might pick it up again. If your child is a sensitive soul, it might help to give them a heads-up beforehand.

Cautions

I'm going to list a few cautions that aren't all the relevant to the mid to older teens this is aimed at, and I only include them because some 10-year-olds and even younger could really enjoy this comic, but with some parental guidance.

This is one of the tamest, safest "how-to-cartoon" books you can find (Maker Comics: Draw a Comic is another, though it covers different ground). But parents need to know that comics today contain loads of weirdness. Whether it's the way women are depicted as impossibly buxom and skinny, or the heroic witches, ghosts, and demons that feature in more and more stories, or the queer agenda that's inserted in comics for even the youngest ages, there is a lot of twisted stuff out there.

The Comic Book Lesson isn't pushing any of that, but in a few instances, this secular work does "bump" into this weirdness. So, for example, Trudy mentions the "Electric Angel Nurse Mizuki" comic she's authored, and we're shown the cover depicting a nurse with wings. Madeline mentions she is writing a comic book about assassins for hire. A customer asks for a copy of Raina Telgemeier's Smile, which is a fine book, but whose sequels take a queer turn. And the 12-or-so-year-old Emily is depicted at a comic store and convention without her parents, which are weirder places than we'd want our 12-year-old to go without us.

That's about it. Nothing too bad, but some of it worth a discussion, especially for younger readers.

Conclusion

Comics can combine not simply exceptional writing but outstanding art, doubling the creative potential to explore. That's why Christians really should dive into this medium. The Comic Book Lesson is a solid piece of "edutainment" that'll give young aspiring artists an introduction to the general approach needed to be able to expand and refine their skills. This is not so much a "how-to-draw" book – there's already enough of those – as it is a "how-to-decide-what-to-draw" book.

If your child loves The Comic Book Lesson, you may be interested to learn that the author has also created The Drawing Lesson, which I hope to check out very soon.

For more, watch the video below where the author gives an in-depth (20 minutes long) introduction to his book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Fuzzy Baseball: Triple Play

by John Steven Gurney
2022 / 176 ages

This is, as the title references, three stories in one, each involving the Fernwood Valley Fuzzies baseball team taking on a different opponent. The Fuzzies are quite a cuddly team, even if their manager is a bear. Other players include a koala, a wombat, and a penguin.

In the first story we’re introduced to their biggest fan, Blossom Possum. But when the Fuzzies keep losing to their rivals, the Rocky Ridge Claws, this fan decides she has to do more than cheer from the sidelines: Blossom tries out and makes the team! But can a little possum really get a hit playing against the fearsome critters of the Red Claw? What can she do versus a crocodile, warthog, bull, rhino, or wolf? As you might imagine, there is a happy ending.

In the second story, the team travels to Japan to play the Sashimi City Ninjas, a polite, but very cocky lot that leaves some of the Fuzzies feeling intimidated. Things get crazy when the Ninjas are able to amplify their baseball skills with a “morfo-power blast” – this is riffing off of Asian cartoons where characters often have some kind of secret power boost they can employ when they most need it. But when the Fuzzies take advantage of this power blast too, it’s homeruns all around, but, as Blossom notes, “This isn’t baseball.” A fun quirk to this story is two alternate endings, the first where it was all a dream, and the second where it wasn’t.

In the third story the Fuzzies discover that the team they are playing are actually robots. Can they beat mechanical wonders? The Fuzzies are up for finding out.

Cautions

This is a collection of what was first three separate books – Fuzzy Baseball, Ninja Baseball Blast, and RBI Robots – and while I have no concerns with any of them, I’ll mention that the fourth book, Di-no hitters. This time the Fuzzies are playing a team of dinosaurs, and while I’ve only read the back cover, it has a couple of allusions to evolution, so I suspect that one will have more than a few jokes about millions of years and such. So, pick up Triple Play, but it might be worth giving book #4 a miss.

Conclusion

This is a kid’s comic that sticks to that target audience: it’s fun, creative, and while this isn’t really trying to teach kids anything, whatever morals there are to the stories (maybe, “be a good teammate,” or “work hard,” etc.) are ones we can appreciate. This would make for a fantastic Christmas present for any kid who likes baseball, fuzzy animals, comics, are even none of the above.