Monday, May 25, 2009

Raw Junior's Toon Books: The rest

Having read and wrote a little about Otto’s Orange Day and Stinky, I figured I might as well go ahead and try to track down the rest of the Toon Book/Raw Junior line, for completeness’ sake.

I still haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of Harry Bliss’ Luke on the Loose, but I think I’ve got the rest of them. I should note before starting that these are all comic books packaged and sold like children’s books and are, in fact, intended for little kids. So if I say something like “This book totally sucks” or “This was a complete waste of time,” I’m only speaking here of my own personal reaction to the work, and not damning it or some aspect of it entirely.

I’m well aware that I’m pretty far outside the intended audience for these things, and as such I’m hardly the best person to ask for assessments of how good or bad they might be for that audience. I do feel pretty comfortable talking about how good or bad a comic is in general though, and I hold to the belief that the best works for children can still be enjoyed by adults, so deeming a work “not for me” doesn’t make it a bad comic, but certainly means it could have been better.

Anyway, let’s read some comics…

Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever by Dean Haspiel and Jay Lynch

This is a superhero comic, and as such, is closest to what I spend most of my comics-reading time with, and it’s also illustrated by Haspiel, an artist whom I was already familiar with before encountering his work in this book (And man, not only does Haspiel do great superhero art, but he proves much more adept at drawing a kids comic than I might have expected).

The superhero he and Lynch have created here is a rather random amalgam of powers and visual notes, a sort of generic hero that seems assembled of spare parts of other superheroes, and whom the Legion of Super-Heroes would have laughed at, and maybe even spit on, as he walked dejectedly away from Legion try-outs (Those Legion brats can be such jerks!)

He’s The Mighty Mojo, and he wears a red and yellow version of your basic Superman costume of tights, tunic, cape, boots and underwear-on-the-outside, with his name on the his chest (Unlike Superman, however, he wears gloves).

He’s got a Superman-like dollop of hair on the front of his head, and wears a smart Douglas Fairbanks-style moustache.

His powers are in his suit, and they consist of magnetic boots that allow him to run up the sides of buildings, and stretchy arms that allow him to, um, stretch his arms, making him like Plastic Man or Mister Fantastic, but only between the shoulders and fingertips.

Okay, he’s not going to be starring in a major motion picture any time soon, or sustaining a 350-issue monthly comic book series in the years to come, but he’s only gotta last about 40 pages. And besides, he’s not the focus of the book, his successors Mona and Joey are.

They’re the world’s two biggest Mighty Mojo fans, and also insufferable brats. When we first meet them, they’re arguing over whose turn it is to play Mojo on their videogame system, each of them pulling on a different side of the controller.

That’s when their gray-haired, mustachioed mailman Mister Mojoski appears, reveals that he is actually the Mighty Mojo, and bequeaths them with his super-suit, as he’s gotten too old and decided to retire.

The little brats fight over the suit, tearing it in half, but their mother is able to fix it and turn it into two suits, so now they each get one of the powers.

They still argue—a lot—which is where the title comes from; see not only are they fighting together as allies, but they’re fighting one another. Get it?

Anyway, there’s a big parade downtown the next day, and after the brats argue about who got the cooler powers (Neither; both power suck), they end up having to defend a giant, hippo-shaped parade balloon from Mojo’s foe Saw-Jaw, and incredible design that looks a bit like a potbellied humanoid alligator, with a metal lower jaw and weird, insect-like legs.

In the course of the battle with Saw-Jaw, the pair learn to work together, and ultimately become Team Mojo (“Those kids are twice the hero I ever was!” the former Mojo laughs).

It was hard for me to get into the story, despising the heroes as I did, but Haspiel’s art and the bright colors were more than enough to make it seem well worth the few minutes I spent reading it.

Benny and Penny in Just Pretend by Geoffrey Hayes

The title characters of this book are a brother and sister pair of anthropomorphic mice. Benny, the older mouse brother, is intent on playing pirate by himself, using a box for a ship and wearing his pirate get-up. His little sister Penny, dressed up as a princess and riding around on her mouse equivalent of a Big Wheel, wants to play with her big brother.

“I can play pirate too,” she cheerfully argues while trying to climb into his box-ship.

“No!,” he shouts, “Pirates are brave, and you are a cry-baby.”

What follows are Penny’s attempts to get her brother to play with her, and Benny’s attempts to avoid doing so. When he finally does get rid of her, by tricking her into playing hide-and-seek and then declining to look for her, he realizes he’s lonely and, when he goes looking for her and can’t find her, he gets worried.

It’s a pretty simple story, but it’s cute and charming and felt relevant to me, both on a literal level (particularly if you grew up with siblings) and a more abstract level of feeling suffocated or pestered by someone close to you until their absence makes you realize how much you like their presence.

Hayes’ artwork looks like it’s done in some kind of colored pencil, but I’m pretty terrible at deducing exact media (That’s just what it looks like to me). His designs seem pretty well balanced between representation and exaggeration; from certain angles his mice look like real mice, but they also have big expressive faces with a wider range of non-mouse emotion shining through them.

Benny and Penny in The Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes

This second Benny and Penny book was something of a disappointment to me, based in large part to my own probably unrealistic expectations. What is “The Big No-No?” What are those two stunned mice looking at with wide eyes on the cover, and what is it that they agree is “a very big no-no”?

I liked imagining it more than discovering it, I learned.

There’s a new kid who just moved in next door to Benny and Penny, and they’re trying to get a look at her or him by peering through a hole in the fence.

Eventually giving up, Benny goes to find his pail only to discover it’s missing! Could the new kid have taken it? Because taking things, Penny says, is a no-no.

When they investigate, they end up in the neighbors’ yard, which is a big no-no. In fact, that’s the big no-no of the title, going into someone else’s yard uninvited.

Oh youth, when that seemed like a big no-no…

The clues seem to point to the new kid being some sort of pail-stealing monster, but the truth is much more benign, and the conflict is eventually settled by the end of the book.

Other than the let-down of the title, I liked this one just fine; Hayes adds another anthropomorphized animal to the mix and does a really nice job of it (I actually like it better than the mice), and he draws awesome birds on the bottom of page 16.

Benny seems like real a-hole in general though. Between him and Mo and Jo, I feel like this line of books is presenting a strong argument not to ever have children, as they can be such horrible little monsters.

Silly Lilly and The Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenstiehl

Okay, this is the book that caveat at the top of the post most applied to: I didn’t care for this one bit, and, honestly, can’t find any real redeeming value in it. Rosenstieh’s art isn’t wretched or anything, but not even that struck me as anything out of the ordinary.

If it weren’t for the little blurb on the cover reading “A first COMIC for brand-new readers!”, I’d be confused as to why it was even published. Considering that blurb as some sort of mission statement, and thinking of the book as the Toon Books equivalent of one of those little board books for the earliest readers, I suppose its existence makes some small amount of sense.

It’s the same size as the other Toon books, but it’s formatted landscape style, more wide than it is tall. The first story page is divided into four squares, and in each one there is a globe, with a giant image of the title character astride it, wearing seasonally appropriate clothes to correspond to whichever of the four seasons that square is labeled. In the middle of the four squares is the sun, and little arrows show that the earth revolves around it.

“The world goes around…” Fall Lilly says, “…and the seasons change!” Summer Lilly finishes.

Each of the four seasons (and a second spring) begins with a splash page denoting which season it is, and then that’s followed by a few pages of big panels that fill the page from top to bottom, packed one next to the other like a newspaper comic strip, only huge, and in color. Lilly romps through these having unremarkable experiences and talking in dialogue bubbles. (In spring she goes to the park, where she dances, jumps and naps; in fall she goes apple picking, and so on).

I did like the way you could see the texture of the paper through the art drawn atop it, an dhow the size of the images is big enough that you can really appreciate the way each of the lines are drawn but, um, that’s about it. Additionally, Lilly’s not at all silly, which is kind of surprising, given her name.


micahmyers said...

I have been meaning to buy more of the Toon Books. My daughter loves Silly Lilly. I have read that book to her more times than I can remember.

Anonymous said...

With your massive experience in children's books you're going to make a great dad some day :D

tomorrowboy 2.9 said...

do they all have to rhyme?