COMIC REVIEW: All-Ages Round-up #2 (Cinebook Reviews #29)

cinebook logoApologies for the break in Cinebook Reviews, but we’re back with a bang.  For those not in the know, Cinebook translate a wide range of French and Belgian comics and publish them for the English speaking market.  Usually I’ll take the time to cover one one book in depth, but in order to make up for lost time I thought I’d do a second all-ages round up.

My 7 yr old girl takes a real pleasure in reading comics, partly sparked by the books I covered in my first all ages-round up, and expanded upon with books like The Phoenix, Garfield, Tiny Titans and The Beano.  It’s always a lot of fun to read them with her, even when the books aren’t to my personal taste.  Gratifyingly she’s started picking them up off the shelves to look through on her own initiative.  Not only are comics a great intermediary between picture books and ‘proper’ reading, but they act as creative stimuli in all sorts of ways.  Summer has been inspired to draw pictures with far more narrative drive and movement than ever before.  But enough about us, let’s take a look at the latest haul from Cinebook – Spirou and Fantasio, Cedric, and Scared To Death.

Spirou

Spirou & Fantasio Vol. 3 Running Scared, Vol. 4: The Valley Of The Exiles, both by Tome and Janry

Spirou Magazine holds a hallowed place in European comics, as the original home of such diverse classics as Lucky Luke, The Smurfs and Buck Danny.  Their relationship to Tintin Magazine forms something of a Marvel / DC analogy.  The eponymous Spirou and his pal, Fantasio are adventurers.  Spirou is earnest and uses his wits, while Fantasio is more hot-headed and prone to take immediate action.  They travel all over the world, accompanied by a squirrel pet named Spip.  So far, so Tintin.  I’d say the target audience is a little younger though, based upon the sense of humour  in the two volumes we read.

In Running Scared, our heroes determine to find out what happened to a missing expedition.  Their previous adventures have been so hair-raising that Dr Placebo persuades them to take a group of patients who suffer from perpetual hiccups with them, in an attempt to cure their disorder.  Valley Of The Exiles is a direct continuation of the story, pitting friend against friend, courtesy of an exotic venom, and eventually revealing the fate of the missing explorers.

I was pleasantly surprised by this pair of books.  They took me back to less critical days when entertainment, wonder and laughter were all that mattered.  Elements such as punning place names, slapstick humour and outlandish exotic animals create a world with a light and energetic tone, while the pacing and danger level is sufficient to keep the pages turning without getting too convoluted or scary for the youngsters.

Summer loved the relationship between the main pair, with the snarky Fantasio as the biggest hit.  She was a little bewildered by the fact that he seemed to know he was in a comic, which led to an interesting discussion about reality.  A lot of the wordplay went above her head, but the slapstick elements had her in stitches.  These books have been such a success with her that she has demanded I get hold of some more.  Thankfully, ‘The Marsupilami Thieves arrived for review shortly afterwards, so that will be next on our bed-time reading list.

Dion: 4/5

Summer: 5/5

 

CedricCedric Vol. 4: Hot And Cold, by Laudec and Cauvin

Cedric is another character from Spirou magazine.  It’s a strip cartoon, collecting a series of humerous vignettes rather than unfolding a long ongoing story.  Think of Peanuts, or Billy and Buddy and you’ll get the gist.  He’s a trouble-making little boy with a big heart and a skateboard.  He has a strong group of friends, an excess of energy and an all-consuming love for a girl named Chen.  Unfortunately he also has a streak of jealousy a mile wide and a very short fuse.  It’s not easy being a boy.

This was quite a sweet little comic, and Summer liked it a lot.  The short stories made it easy to pick up and put down again, which should have made bedtimes easier, but actually led to ‘Just one more, Daddy.  Pleeeeease!’  C’est la vie.  The character design is quite simple and the backgrounds are minimalist to keep the focus on the characters.   The strips are generally pretty funny, and tend to work on character traits rather than events.  Cedric is jealous (or sneaky or panicked), grandpa is grumpy or naughty, dad feels undervalued and mum tends to worry.  To be honest, I’d find Cedric a little creepy to be around, if he were a real boy.  His crush on Chen borders on obsession, and the speed at which he sees red is frankly terrifying.  That said, he’s so earnest about his feelings, it’s hard to hold it against him.  He’s just a martyr to his emotions.

The degree to which Cedric wears his heart on his sleeve really resonated with Summer.  She enjoyed his antics and took great delight in the degree that a girl could – quite innocently – put a boy through so much torment.  His mischievous side also tickled her, and I’m preparing myself for any number of tricks when she starts to get school reports.  One aspect I did appreciate was the level of love in the family household.  While the family showed a depth of character and operated on different levels depending on who they were talking to, they all cared for Cedric and each other.  Nice to see in a medium with is often full of overwrought relationships.

Dion: 3/5

Summer: 4/5

 

ScaredToDeath1Scared To Death Vol 1: The Vampire From The Marshes, by Mauricet and Virginie Vanholme

I was a little dubious about reading this one to the sprog.  While she’s a confident girl, there are times when she lets fear destroy her enjoyment of a programme or film.  I had a flick through first and saw there weren’t any images that were overtly horrific, so we gave it a go.  Sneaking through his father’s forensic reports, Robin discovers a picture of a dead man covered in puncture wounds from head to toe.  He shows it to his friend Max and they half convince themselves there must be a vampire lurking around in the nearby marshes.  While camping out in the garden they find more than they were bargaining for, but is the ‘vampire’ all that he appears?

Robin and Max make for engaging leads.  Max is clearly seen to be a trouble-maker and revels in his reputation, but his friendship with the smart, reliable Robin is genuine.  Vanholme – and translator Luke Spear – do a great job in capturing the tone of their relationship, whipping effortlessly between teasing banter, shared confidences and staunch support in the face of peril.  The transition from ghoulish delight to fear is played nicely and perfectly pitched at the pre/early-teen level.  No nightmares here, but a few thrills pepper the piece.  One thing parents should note is there are one or two mild swears scattered around.  You’ll have your own opinions as to what is acceptable or not.  The artwork is bright and cartoonish throughout, and nicely shadowed when appropriate.

We read the book in two sittings, both at bedtime.  Summer was engaged throughout and enjoyed the characters.  She wished Robin’s sister had gotten involved instead of just mooning after Max, but she wasn’t too bothered by the boys-own aspect of the story.  Pleasingly there was no sleep lost over the vampire, and it’s stirred an interest in the alternative points of view of the monsters in stories.  Anything that helps encourage empathy is good in my book.  The final page advertises a couple more volumes of Scared To Death that are on their way – one featuring sorcery and one a werewolf.  We’ll have to have that initial glance through first, but I suspect they’ll be just as big a hit.  Recommended.

Dion: 3.5/5

Summer: 4.5/5

 

Not a bad batch, all in all.  If you find yourself near a comic convention, I’d strongly suggest making your way to the Cinebook stall.  They tend to have good deals, the strongest being ‘buy 5 get 5 free.’  Why not grab 5 for yourself and treat the nippers to the other 5?  It’s never to early to get them into comics.

Reviewers: Dion Winton-Polak and Summer Rose Winton

Average ratings: Spirou & Fantasio: 4.5/5    Cedric: 3.5/5     Scared To Death: 4/5

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