Thursday, August 11, 2016

Slices of CAKE: Kid stuff, but not really

Night Air
By Ben Sears
Published by Koyama Press

Perhaps I don't pay as close attention to the comics scene as I used to, or maybe the world of comics has grown large enough that it's impossible to do so, but this is a case where I discovered an artist whose work is right up my alley, but who I didn't know about before I met him at CAKE. I love his art style, which seems equally influenced by European comics like Tintin, the animated films of Studio Ghibli, and role playing video games like the Zelda series, but he brings all this together to craft his own world, which features a rich, fascinating mix of boy adventurers, blocky robots, menacing monsters, and haunted castles.

The story here involves a boy who seems to be just traveling around the retro-futuristic fantasy land and having adventures with his robot pal, and they end up checking out a castle in hopes of finding treasure, only to get trapped within its walls by a malevolent ghost-entrepreneur. I love the way Sears has his heroes just go along with the strange stuff they find, coming up with a plan to defeat the bad guys using the power of friendship. He gives things just enough menace that there seems to be real danger, while still letting his characters use their wits and resources to prevail.

Sears' art is just lovely, using a thin line and plenty of rich colors to fill the pages with detail, and he includes enough background information to make the world seem like a living, breathing place, full of exciting and fantastical happenings, which we're only just getting to experience one small corner of. I loved this book, and I'm really excited to read as many more of Sears' comics as I can.

By Melissa Mendes
Published by Alternative Comics

With this graphic novel, which was originally published as a series of minicomics by Oily Comics, Melissa Mendes tells a pretty fascinating story about a group of kids (the title character, a girl who is about 10 years old, and her two brothers, with the younger one being around six and the older one a teenager, as well as a couple of her friends) trying to understand the events going on around them. But before diving into any dramatic happenings, she just lets us spends time with these characters, giving them realistic relationships with each other and their parents, showing them bickering with each other or begging their parents to get a dog, and letting us see glimpses of their parents as they struggle to make ends meet and keep up a good relationship with their children.

But while these scenes of daily life are going on, we get hints of more adult concerns that are going on around them, especially in the teenage brother's job at a pizza place, where his boss seems to be going through a crisis of some sort. There's also an odd plot about the younger kids discovering a secret hideout in an abandoned building, and these two plots converge in what turns out to be a harrowing adventure that occurs when the kids' parents finally get a chance to go out and have some adult time (which, as a parent, might have been the most agonizing part of the book for me).

This isn't any sort of grand artistic statement or a book that reveals untold depths when examining the lives of children, but it's a good story told well, and one that manages to capture some real truths about how kids see the world, and due to that, it ends up being quite good. I'm glad I got a chance to read it, and I'll be sure to look for some of Mendes' other comics in the future.

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