Sept. 3, 2013 -- A clutch of unusual comics for kids have come out recently, or maybe they’re comics for unusual kids. You be the judge.
Top of the list is undoubtedly Mouse Guard: The Black Axe (Archaia, $24.99). Axe is the third “Mouse Guard” graphic novel, but chronologically the first, as it takes place in Mouse Year 1115, whereas the previous two took place in – and were named for – Fall 1152 and Winter 1152. It’s a prequel, telling the tale of how Guardsmouse Celanawe came into possession of the legendary Black Axe that he has when he meets Mouse Guards Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam in 1152.
The Mouse Guards are the protectors of a mouse civilization created by writer/artist David Petersen, a civilization at a Middle Ages level and built in the grass at our feet. Well, not our feet, as this world is seemingly without humans. But it is still a world full of peril for the tiny mice, beset by all sorts of predators, from owls to ferrets, as well as foul weather, disease and starvation. You know, like the human Middle Ages (except for the owls and ferrets).
Petersen’s work is painstaking and gorgeous, as he fools the mind with beautiful images of how such a civilization would work, with tiny houses and carts and ale casks and itsy-bitsy mouse clothing denoting occupation and rank (for the Guards). When the mice are forced to fight, you can’t imagine how they might win against such outsized opponents, and then Peterson orchestrates the combat so that you do believe it, and enjoy every panel of it.
Occasionally the dialogue is a bit clunky, as Petersen strives for ye olde-fashioned wording and doesn’t always succeed. But his plotting and storytelling are outstanding, especially on this story, an old-fashioned quest where boon companions sail off the edge of the maps in search of the weapon of the title. The main characters may all be mice, but Petersen infuses each furry face with a personality of his or her own that readers will find endearing.
Amazon says this book is suitable for ages 8 and up, but some of the violence – I’m thinking especially of a fatal ferret attack on a black bird – may be too much for age 8. Depending, I guess, on the 8-year-old in question. Meanwhile older kids and adults should enjoy Mouse Guard: The Black Axe tremendously.
Incidentally, there are two other "Mouse Guard” collections aside from the three mentioned above. Two miniseries have been collected as Tales of the Mouse Guard volumes one and two. The conceit of the series is old mice drinking and telling tales about the Guard, with the rules being that each story must have one true element and one lie, and each story must never have been told at the tavern before (although how we’d know this I can’t imagine). Each story is by a different creative, not Petersen himself, and quality – as in any anthology – varies from story to story.
Also from Archaia is an oddity called Pantalones, TX: Don’t Chicken Out ($19.95). Pantalones stars Chico Bustamante, who likes to drag race, outrace the sheriff and generally have fun. But when he is challenged to bronco bust the sheriff’s giant chicken, he must tackle the fearsome task or chicken out – and Chico never backs down from a dare.
Amazon describes this book as suitable for age 3 and up, although presumably the lower end of that scale will have to have the book read to them. And, honestly, this book likely skews younger, because despite Chico’s rowdy and somewhat illegal pastimes, it’s just horseplay for the most part, and the silly story and rubber-limbed, exaggerated art (by Yehudi Mercado) is simple, light, fast-moving hoo-ha along the lines of a Roadrunner cartoon. Don’t think about it too much, and enjoy the ride.
Meanwhile, the eighth collection of Mark Tatulli’s daily comic strip Lio has been released, Making Friends (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $9.99). For those whose local paper doesn’t carry Lio, the titular character is a creative little boy who has a lot of interaction with robots, monsters, aliens and other things that go bump in the night. He can, as the title implies, literally “make” friends, either a Frankenstein monster or a killer robot. He’s sort of like Pugsley of The Addams Family, only in a family where he’s the only weirdo.
Lio isn’t quite as morbid as Addams Family, but its humor is consistently black, or at least pretty dark gray. And it’s entirely wordless, which means even youngsters can get the gags. If, you know, they’re the sort of kids who prefer spiders to sparkles.
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Lio sometimes reminds me of Henry.
Henry is the kid with no mouth, right? Is he also a black-humor character, or is the similarity just that both strips are silent?
That they are both silent. Henry is still carried in the Weirs Times and Tourist Gazette so I read him regularly and I remember him from the ancient days.