Pirates prefer comics, a conversation with Captain Kid
Captain Kid: Avast! Who goes there?
Your Neighborhood Librarian: Why look! it's my old friend Captain Kid! How's it going, Captain? It's me, Your Neighborhood Librarian!
CK: You again! I just be here to be usin' the computer.
YNL: Well, sure, we'll sign you up for the computer, but your mom, I mean, Commodore... uh, AtHerWitsEnd, asked me if I could help you pick out a book.
CK: Ta read?
YNL: No, to use as a Frisbee. Yep, we'll find a fun book to read. I bet you're the kind of pirate that likes books about princesses.
CK: Belay that bilge!
CK: Nay, ye seaweed-haired trollop!
YNL: Why, Captain, where are you learning that kind of language?
YNL: Ok, so no Barbies and no princesses. How about... a funny book?
CK: I guess.
YNL: How about... a funny comic book?
YNL: No, seriously, look, it's got a hard cover like a book so your mom, er, the Commodore, won't think it's a comic book, but look at this inside: it's a comic book! Look at this purple monster, what's his name?
CK: SSSSS... ST.. IN.. KEE. STINKY!
YNL: And he lives in a swamp, and that's his room - look at all the other animals, they've got clothespins on their noses, why do you think that is?
CK: Because he smells so bad!
YNL: Why do you think he smells?
CK: I bet he farts all the time!
And... my job just got a lot easier.
A long time ago, maybe 20-25 years ago, comics stopped being for kids. I'd blame Alan Moore, but you can't blame Alan Moore for everything. (Love Alan Moore, by the way. I would never have started reading comics if it weren't for V for Vendetta.) It's not a tragedy that people started taking the illustrated medium seriously - no way - but along the way, as beautiful autobiographical works and creaky experiments and pustule-plagued dark junk became the norm, people stopped making comics for kids. Any superhero worth his tights gained a conscience and a dark side. Even the Spider-man strip in the newspaper isn't for kids anymore - it's just TOO DULL AND NOTHING EVER HAPPENS. Seriously, when there's more plot in Apartment 3-G, you know it's time for new personnel on a strip.
So when Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman, creators of the original RAW "graphix magazine" (and, you guys, I still have my original copies, if you ever get to Baltimore and feel like signing stuff), started making books for children - actual comic books (although the produce of RAW JUNIOR is hardbound, as I note above), they were bridging a really big gap.
I have finally gotten my hands on their first three books... briefly. My sons, 5 and 7, took off with Mo and Jo, crawling into a corner, the big one reading it to the little one. He would have read it again (he went for it again this morning as soon as he was out of bed), but I wanted to read Jack and the Box together. I love the shapes of Spiegelman's characters.
So that left Stinky. I don't know the artist, and it's not about superheroes. But Eleanor Davis's way with color and detail won me over. She uses page and panel composition masterfully to set tone and pace, but her pages aren't so complicated that a kid will lose track of the sequence. Plus, the story is a charmer and the dialog fresh.
"You were afraid of me? Don't monsters eat kids?"Captain Kid: But... aren't all comic books full of heartbreak and zombies and women with big boobs?
"What? YUCK! No way! Ha, ha!"
Your Neighborhood Librarian: What? YUCK! No way! Ha, ha!