Sometimes I catch books when they're new, sometimes they slip through the cracks at ComixTalk headquarters. Today I'm covering two comic series for kids: Guinea PI: Pet Shop Private Eye and Adventures in Cartooning.
Guinea PI: Pet Shop Private Eye
I picked up the first book in the Guinea PI series (Hamster and Cheese) from writer Colleen AF Venable at SPX this fall. I was a fan of Colleen's photo-webcomic Fluff In Brooklyn, which probably was good practice for writing a kid's book about talking animals. The books are illustrated by Stephanie Yue. The second book in the series, And Then There Were Gnomes, just came out this month. The third book is titled The Ferret's A Foot, but it's not clear from the publisher's website when it's scheduled for release.
I thought the first book was incredibly cute – the art is top notch and Yue's expressions for the animals really adds a lot to the book. The mystery takes place in a petshop with an incredibly absent-minded owner. The cages are mis-labeled (the hamsters think they're koalas because of the sign on their cage). The owner thinks the
koalas hamsters are stealing his sandwich every day so one of the hamsters, Hamisher, enlists Sasspants the Guinea Pig to help crack the case. The "G" has fallen off of Sasspants' "Guinea Pig" sign so Hamisher sees "Guinea PI." Although Sasspants is extremely annoyed that anyone is interrupting her efforts to read a book, she goes along with investigating the case, so long as Hamisher promises to leave her alone afterwards. It's a very silly book – both words and art – I'm guessing probably best for a reader of about 7-10.
Adventures in Cartooning
The Adventures in Cartooning series is from publisher First Second Books and by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost, and Andrew Arnold. The first book in the series is Adventures in Cartooning: How To Turn Your Doodles Into Comics and is a perfect blend of a silly little story with knights, dragons, castles and princesses combined with examples and exercises on how to draw comics. I can't imagine a better book to teach comics to grade school children – it is fun to read and very encouraging to tell a story in words and pictures. The notion that "one can't really draw" sets in all too early unfortunately and this book's mix of practical tips and joyous enthusiasm for making comics is a good antidote. There's a pretty extensive preview of the book online here.
The second book in the series is Adventures in Cartooning: Activity Book and it makes a great companion to the first book. It features the return of the young knight and the Magic Cartooning Elf along with Edward the Horse. This time, however, the book explicitly encourages kids to practice right there in the book. It otherwise very much follows the formula of the first book presenting a silly but engaging story about the knight, the elf and the horse. This time they encounter giants and robots before telling the Sun a bedtime story. Along the way the book presents lots of opportunities to practice aspects of comics by creating speed lines, sound effects, word bubbles, writing dialogue for characters and drawing in scenes of the story. The end of the book is several pages of empty panels for the reader/creator to create a comic about the bedtime story the characters tell the Sun.
A lot of reviewers have compared these books to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Making Comics – there's something to that. These books are written for a young audience (and not written down to) but have the same strong foundation of presenting the essentials of comics and then working through how to make them by presenting exercises designed to work on aspects of comics and by engaging the readers to exercise their imaginations.
The publisher provided free copies of the Adventures in Cartooning books to ComixTalk for review purposes.