Shuster award-winning cartoonist Scott Chantler’s YA graphic novel The Captive Prince is a charming and accomplished third instalment in a series about three thieves on the run in a medieval fantasy world where humans coexist with both giant and elf-ish races. The story is told primarily from the viewpoint of Dessa, a teenaged acrobat who has literally run away from the circus with her friends Topper and Fisk, searching for her lost twin brother and staying one step ahead of the Queen’s Dragoons.
In this book, the trio rescue a kidnapped prince called Paladin, who insists that they stay as his guests at the castle. His father, the king, is not so welcoming. Dessa finds herself the object of Paladin’s affection, endangering an alliance with another kingdom; meanwhile her pursuers are closing in. The Captive Prince is a solid adventure story, well-suited to Chantler’s clear compositions and strong character design skills.
Binky Takes Charge is an endearing graphic novel for young readers about a cat that is secretly a lieutenant in the space program – which, for cats, means the space outside the house. Binky is expecting a new recruit to arrive soon and is prepared to instruct the new kitten in everything he or she needs to know to survive in the house and yard. Binky is surprised, then, when the new recruit turns out to be a puppy; and being such, apparently unteachable.
Saskatoon-based writer/artist Ashley Spires has a lovely illustration style for this type of story, and while it may not be a complicated plot by adult standards, it does have some clever and unexpected moments. Small wonder that the series is winning and being nominated for a wide range of awards.
This is a very clever YA graphic novel by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallero, the second in a series about a teenaged fencing prodigy called Aliera Carstairs. Aliera discovers that her finding skill is no accident; she is the Defender of Faerie, and her lab partner Avery is a troll sworn to protect her.
While the setup and plot are a standard heroic journey, Yolen’s Aliera is a pleasure to read as she discovers more about her powers, her family history, and who she can trust. Cavallero’s art complements the script well, using an ingenious device where Aliera’s “mundane” world is presented in shades of gray while the faerie folk are full colour. The script is ingenious as well, naming and structuring each chapter after a phase of a fencing match.
Overall, Foiled Again has the feel of an Americanized manga, focusing on Aliera’s emotions and cleverly employing the fencer’s admonition to “guard your heart.” Those who are already beyond their teen years might find this a little tiresome at times, and there are a few moments where script and artwork are not quite harmonious (for example, a panel where Aliera is making a simple statement but she is drawn as if she is shouting). But even Harry Potter had its clunky moments. Curses! Foiled Again is a lot of fun and I would recommend it for anyone aged 12 and up.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Bigfoot Boy: Into the Woods by J. Torres and Faith Erin Hicks recently. It’s an all-ages graphic novel about Rufus, a ten-year-old boy who spends a long weekend at his grandmother’s house in British Columbia. Bored, he follows a neighbour girl called Penny into the woods and gets a little lost; in his attempt to find his way back he finds a strange necklace with a totem carved on one side and “sasquatch” on the other. Like a Canadian Captain Marvel, he discovers that when he says the word on the necklace, he is struck by lightning and turned into a sasquatch (or Bigfoot, for American readers). He takes this pretty much in stride and soon befriends a talking flying squirrel called Sidney. When he says the magic word backwards, he returns to human form (sans clothes). Unfortunately for Rufus, there are others who want to use the power of the necklace. Sidney and Penny help him understand his new powers so that he can survive and protect the forest.
I enjoyed this book very much and will be buying a copy for my own ten-year-old boy when it is released by Kids Can Press in September. Torres is a YA comics veteran and Shuster award winning writer that I have followed since his Copybook Tales minicomics, and Faith Erin Hicks is a talented Halifax artist with comics like the charming Superhero Girl and Friends With Boys under her belt. They make a great team here; Torres’ script is fun and well-paced for the preteen audience, and Hicks’ artwork is energetic and expressive. I hope there will be more volumes to come!
In the meantime, if you happen to be in the Toronto area, Torres and Hicks will be at Fan Expo Canada and launching the book at Little Island Comics in Mirvish Village on Sunday at 4 PM. Get out there and support quality all-ages and YA comics!
About 20 years ago, I happened across Michael Marshall Smith’s debut novel “Only Forward” in a bookshop and picked it up on a whim. It wound up becoming one of my favourite novels. His followup, “Spares”, was also quite good and bears no small resemblance to Michael Bay’s subsequent film “The Island” as well as “Never Let Me Go.”
His recent young adult novel “The Servants” is much more personal in scope; still fantastic in the sense that there is a bit of a ghost story, but also very grounded in its tale of a boy called Mark who finds himself moved to a house in Brighton with his ailing mother and new stepfather. He meets an old lady who lives in the basement apartment below, and she shows him what was once the servants’ area; hidden rooms that come to life when he returns on his own.
The Servants is very well-observed in terms of Mark’s emotions and the revelations that he has to deal with. I’m not sure how I feel about the ending – it strikes me as a little off – but I’m glad I read it. Quality YA novels for boys always seem to be in short supply.
Sheridan alumnus Vera Brosgol hits a home run with her debut YA graphic novel Anya’s Ghost, about a teenaged Russian immigrant who has worked hard to assimilate but still feels like an outsider. Anya discovers that things could be much worse when she falls down a hole in a field and lands next to the long-lost remains of Emily, a girl who died under sinister circumstances during World War I. Emily’s ghost haunts the skeleton, unable to stray far from it, but when Anya is rescued she accidentally sweeps one of Emily’s small finger-bones into her backpack and brings Emily with her. Not surprisingly, Emily does not want to go back, so she promises to help Anya with her problems, fetching answers for tests and finding out how to attract a certain boy. The more Emily does, however, the more Anya starts to suspect that Emily is not as helpful as she appears.
Brosgol, herself a Russian immigrant, constructs a smart and well-paced script around familiar YA themes of self-discovery and ethical choices versus wanting to fit in. Anya is a (literally) well-drawn character with family and friends that we can easily identify with. The art style is very polished, reminding me a bit of Craig Thompson and Hope Larson, but by no means derivative. And while teenaged girls are the obvious target for Anya’s Ghost, anyone who loves great comics would be well-served to check it out. My congratulations to Vera Brosgol, I can’t wait to see what she does next.