Thursday, August 27, 2009

Finally, a children's picture book with a very important moral:

Writer/artist Neil Numberman's Do Not Build a Frankenstein! (Greenwillow Books) is a charmingly straightforward picture book, with an important moral to teach (see the title). It's one of those picture books that hovers between traditional picture books and comics, although I think it's far closer to the latter.

Some of the words appear as prose text within and around images, but if these were encased in little yellow boxes, we'd just call 'em narration boxes and think this thing was perfectly comic-book-y. All of the dialogue spoken by anyone other than the protagonist/narrator, and quite a bit of his dialogue, occurs within traditional comic book dialogue bubbles. Many of the pages function as giant panels (the edges of the pages functioning as the borders)
while others are broken up into multiple images per page, with the white space between the images serving as implied panel borders.

That narrator/protagonist is a pretty normal looking boy, who's only distinguishable from all the neighborhood kids by the dirt on his face, and the anxious look on his face. He's called all the kids out to a snowy field, where he stands upon a wooden crate, and delivers his message, on an two-page spread that's an extreme close-up: "Do not build a Frankenstein!"

"Trust me," he goes on. "I know. I tried. You must dedicate your entire life to building a Frankenstein. You must research...built a laboratory...and find the right parts."

The kid tells the others about how it might seem fun having your own patchwork monster at first, but it can get sort of annoying after awhile (his monster never rebels against him or drowns any little girls in a lake or anything terrible like that though; it mostly just acts like a big, clumsy, super-strong little brother).

The kid builds a compelling case, although Numberman's important message regarding the not-building of Frankenstiens is somewhat undercut by the expected (but still amusing) twist ending.

Numberman's character design is a lot of fun, with his children possessing huge round heads—giving him plenty of space to work in exaggerated, easy-to-read expressions, and spindly, boneless limbs attached too little bodies (There's something very Muppet-like about his human children).

His Frankenstein's monster is a refreshingly original design. He's green and has bolts in his neck, but the only real sign that he's been stitched together form grave-robbed body parts are the quilt-like patches he sports here and there. I like how he's all arms and torso, with just a tiny bullet-shaped head and a lower body that looks a little like an upside down football goal post.

Numberman creates all this in water color, and there's a neat, homemade feel to the art. The drawings are simply rendered, but there's complex workings beneath them all, and the uneven weight of the water-colors is left visible, so that each page looks a little like something a kid might have brought home from school—if the kid was very, very talented (Or, put another way, it looks like if you locked Numberman in a grade school art room, he could have made this book in there with no trouble).

The "camera" moves in and out from full-page medium shots to extreme two-page splash close-ups to multiple long-shots per page, giving the book a fast, hurried pace that pushes the story along quickly and making sure something jumps out at the reader on a very regular basis.

It's all around great work, and one of the best picture books I've read in a while.


If those couple images pique your interest, I'd definitely recommend you pay a visit to, and check out the images and comics he has filed under "comics," "kids" and "portfolio." There's some super-weird stuff in there, and his Che Guevara comic under "portfolio" is pretty awesome.

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