Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Toon Books

Most publishers at least try and pay lip service to the idea: we need to get younger readers picking up and enjoying comics. But few actually follow through. However, Francoise Mouly, art editor of the NEW YORKER, has done just that with the Toon Books line. These short hardcover editions are the very definition of solid kid-reader material, presenting solid stories and art aimed directly at those 4-years old and above. And the accolades have followed- the state of Maryland has incorporated the line into its “Comics in the Classroom” initiative.

This second wave of books features a diverse set of tales. First up is MO AND JO, written by Jay Lynch and drawn by Dean Haspiel. Bickering siblings Mona and Joey find themselves in possession of superhero The Mighty Mojo’s costume and promptly rip it in half fighting over it. Repaired into two suits, each one gives one of the kids a superpower- Mona gets the ability to stretch her limbs and Joey gains the ability to use his boots as magnets. With a supervillain on the loose and threatening the peace, the pair quickly decides they can outdo each other, but there’s a greater lesson to be learned. This book is really very good; the script is witty, but still speaks to the younger reader, and Haspiel’s art is simple but ornate. Solid stuff.

STINKY is written and drawn by Eleanor Davis, and is the best of this second series of releases. Stinky is a swamp-dweller that loves his smelly, unpleasant environment, his friend Wartbelly (a toad), and he’s nothing short of pleased that humans avoid his area like the plague. But one day a young boy wanders into the swamp, determined to build a treehouse. This sits poorly with Stinky, who sets out to discourage the boy by any means necessary. That leads to a terrific comedy of misunderstandings and silliness, setting up Stinky to finally get over his own fears about how he will be received by others. Davis’ work is amazing, from her wonderfully colored panels to her razor sharp script. This has the broadest appeal of any youth-oriented graphic novel I’ve seen in a while.

Strangely enough, the weakest link in this trio is Pulitzer-prize winner Art Spiegelman’s JACK AND THE BOX. Artistically and script-wise, this story of a young boy who receives a jack-in-the-box that has more personality than most feels… too simple. There really isn’t a story here, per se, only a succession of events, and at thirteen bucks cover price, I’d ant and expect more than what’s here. This will only appeal to the very bottom age end, as even kids at age 6 or higher will find this unchallenging.

Overall, this series of books looks really good. I was impressed by the production value and by most of the work between the covers themselves, and I’d definitely recommend two of the three. That always plays as a “win” in my book.

Marc Mason