Wednesday, January 9

A Couple of Toon Books

Benny and Penny in Just Pretend
by Geoffrey Hayes

Otto's Orange Day
written by Jay Lynch
illustrated by Frank Cammuso

Toon Books/RAW Junior 2007

In a word: Disappointing.

The first releases in a new imprint from he editorial team of Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman are probably best described as comic books packaged as graphic novels for the younger set. If they didn't have such a high pedigree (Spiegelman's Maus being royalty among American graphic novels) I would almost call them cynical and calculated in their attempt to cash in on the current interest in sequential storytelling art for children.

Otto is a cute kid/kit who has a thing for the color orange When his aunt sends him an orange lamp she found he finds himself the owner of a genie who grants his single wish to turn everything in the world orange. Very quickly the downside of his wish becomes apparent when orange lamb chops don't taste so good and orange traffic lights cause accidents. Unable to retract his wish, Otto and his aunt manage to trick the Genie into correcting the problem by treating him nice and appealing to his centuries-old hunger.

With Benny and Penny we have a typical sibling problem of learning how to lay together. Benny the elder of the two is looking to play pirate but when his younger princess-dressed sister wants to join in Benny resists. Forced to play with her sister Benny convinces his sister to play hide-and-seek so he can hide her away and deliberately not find her. After a while he realizes it's not as much fun to play alone and after a scary moment where he's afraid his sister is lost Penny reappears and they continue to play together.

As comic books for emerging readers, these are fine. The problem I have is that they don't aspire to be anything more than comic book material, and to that end I find it hard to understand how they can justify their packaging and price. $12.95 is a bit steep when you can hit the comic book store and find similarly appropriate (and ultimately disposable) material -- albeit produced by a TV network and filled with ads -- for one third the price. Even if you wanted to go with higher quality you can find reprinted Mickey Mouse comic books at two-thirds the price and double or triple the pages without ads.

There is very little in content that separates these comics from similar age-appropriate material in I-Can-Read series titles. If the intention of the books from this imprint are to give comic books a viability in traditional book marketplace, to pull them from the ghetto of the den of the comic book stores that might mystify adults looking for quality comic material for their children, then adjustments will need to be made.

It's disappointing because where Mouly and Spieglman have the resources and connections to bring known comic creators before younger audiences this enterprise has the feel of bandwagoning profiteers.

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