Saturday, April 11, 2009

Okay, now I've read Otto's Orange Day

Never let it be said that I don’t listen to my commenters (Even the ones over at Blog@Newsarama, whom aren’t anywhere nearly as well-bred, sophisticated and good-looking as you guys are).

When rounding up links to stories about comics from the non-comics media for Linkarama, the thrice-weekly link-blogging column I contribute to Blog@, I came across this little story from the Poughkeepsie Journal. It was a guest column by youth service librarian Beth Zambito, in which she recommends graphic novels for young readers, including popular books like Owly, Amelia Rules and the newer collection of Scott Morse’s Magic Pickle (Which Oni published as singles several years ago), along with two books I hadn’t read. One was Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel, which I’m kind of skeptical of just based on the title (I haven’t read many worthwhile books that include a colon and the words “The Graphic Novel” in the title so far), and the other was Otto’s Orange Day by Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch.

In that particular installment of Linkarama, I wrote, “I’ve never heard of Otto’s Orange Day though, so I guess I better visit my local library.”

Frequent Blog@ commenter Vinnie Bartilucci posted this in response: “Otto’s Orange Day is one of Francoise Mouly’s Toon Books line of little kid’s picture books written and drawn by some of the most creative people in comics. WELL worth seeking out.” He also posted a link to

Well, since then I’ve visited my local library and secured a copy of Otto’s Orange Day, read it, scanned a few images and put it on my Blog About This Sometime schedule for Saturday.

And hey, today’s Saturday!

It’s written by Jay Lynch and illustrated by Frank Cammuso, and I must confess that I’m completely unfamiliar with the work of either of them, although from their biographies it seems pretty clear that that says more about my ignorance than their experience. (Actually, I’ve heard of some of Cammuso’s work, I just haven’t read any of it personally).

Both have a lot of experience with comics though, so I suppose it’s no surprise that this is a very accomplished, very polished work. It’s strange in that it reads like a comic, but looks, feels, smells and in all other ways resembles a children’s book. (It’s even sized for children’s hands, at nine inches-by-six inches, and is a lovely little object, for those of you/us who may fetishize books as objects; credit for its design goes to the line’s editorial director Francoise Mouly and Jonathan Bennett).

Otto is a little anthropomorphic cat who happens to be a couple different shades of orange, and reminds me of my friend’s cat Ramram, who recently passed away:
(Above: Ramram, sitting like a human being, as was his wont)

“Orange was Otto the cat’s favorite color,” a caption box informs us on the first page, and Otto, wearing the cartoon character uniform of a shirt and no pants, tells us how awesome orange is: “Orange is pretty. It’s bold and it’s strong!”

Yeah, sure Otto—but you can’t rhyme anything with it!

Then he sings a song about the color orange, only to be interrupted by a ding-dong at the door. It’s the mailman (well, he’s actually a maildog), who delivers a package to Otto:
This is the one moment of the book in which my suspended disbelief could not longer be suspended, and was thus re-spended. Why on earth would Aunt Sally Lee take the time to send her nephew a lamp, packing it up, writing him a letter and taking it to the post office, and not dust the lamp herself? What kind of aunt sends someone a dusty present?

Well, if you’ve ever experienced any genie-related entertainment before, you know what happens when he dusts it off. A (humanoid, rather than feline) genie appears, this one blue, goatee-ed and tapering off to a wispy tail like the Disney genie from Aladdin, only with a gold tooth and wearing a big gold G necklace (probably for “Genie,” rather than “gangsta”).

Otto of course gets a wish, and he wishes that everything in the world was orange. This leads to four pages of Otto running about, exulting in the orange and making some rather forced rhymes to describe exactly what “everything” encompasses: “ Orange clowns in orange gowns!… Orange monkeys…cows and lizards. And in the winter, orange blizzards.”

He soon realizes that having everything in the world be orange has some drawbacks. When his mom serves him a lambchop for lunch (Lamb? For lunch?!), for example, he wanders away from the table in disgust:
Then there’s the matter of traffic lights, and police APBs (“Alert! Be on the lookout for the escaped orange criminal… He or she has orange hair… and orange eyes… and is wearing orange!”).

Otto tries to fix things, with the help of his aunt, but the genie is being less than cooperative and, in the end, they have to trick the genie into making the world normal again, using something Otto learned himself in the course of realizing a one-colored world has its disadvantages.

I liked the story okay, but it seemed to be more of a kids’ book than an all-ages book (That is, targeted at younger audiences at the expense of older audiences). I mention that as an observation more than a criticism, by the way; there’ s certainly nothing wrong with kids’ comics targeting kids.

If I have a few reservations about the script (for adult readers, not kids, for whom it’s perfect), I have none about Cammuso’s art, which is pretty great.

The designs and sense of motion seem highly influenced by classic animation of the humorous short variety, but the lines look like those in an exceptionally well-drawn comic strip (In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of Bill Watterson’s, particularly in the way Cammuso lends energy and excitement to the common, every day settings like a kitchen table or a living room).

So I guess I’m inclined to agree with youth service librarian Beth Zambito and Blog@ reader Vinnie Bartilucci.

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