After Nick Abadzis made me feel good about myself I walked away with a copy of The Magic Skateboard, which is book 3 in his Pleebus Planet series. Honestly I bought it at random because I just wanted to buy something, anything from him, as a way of saying “Laika was cool and I want to see more stuff like that”. It’s kind of the same business model I have for any hauls we get from a con: just pick at random and review it. On the one hand, I feel like a little bit of a jerk for some reason, but on the other hand I figure it’s easier to judge something on its own merits when I have no preconceptions beyond maybe a synopsis or even just a title. All of this work comes from 2001, but far be it from me to avoid advertising something because it’s already been out for almost twelve years. Why not give an old work some new exposure?
The Magic Skateboard is a children’s literature piece that actually has quite a bit of depth and meaning to it. It’s a lighthearted story, but also imaginative, and with just enough of a serious message to let you interpret this work in more than one way.
Joey and Pandora are two kids in elementary school (wait, primary school since this is a UK piece, right?) who have relatively normal lives, but are friends with a crazy duck scientist named Oom-chaka and a creature named Pleebus, a tall white creature that mostly speaks by saying his name over and over. These four characters can interact by using some fancy transdimensional technology to travel between Earth and Plabbu, Oom-chaka’s home in the middle of some kind of space-time gobbledygook called netherspace. It’s like Winnie the Pooh, but with more crazy magic-tech influence and an emphasis on the imagination.
The kids want to see Pleebus and Oom-chaka for help on a science project, but things get really screwy real quick when their gateway to his place gets destroyed, and on top of that a nasty doppelganger of Pleebus, named Subeelp (get it?), gets loose and escapes Oom-chaka’s lab in order to find and ruin the kids. I guess there’s no Winnie the Pooh analogy there. These kids have kind of a hard-knock life, I suppose. A magic skateboard becomes instrumental in their goal of trying to re-establish contact with their friends in netherspace.
I haven’t read the previous two issues, but judging by what I’ve read in this one, Joey has some real domestic problems with his dad. Like, the unhealthy psychological kind. It’s not heavily dramatic, and it’s not like Joey’s getting physically abused, but it’s obvious that dad has an unusually negative relationship with his son. Pandora’s got her own problems with kids making fun of her at school; I think these two points take The Magic Skateboard beyond a mere adventure story for kids and makes it a metaphor for growing up with how to deal with the bad things in life. Subeelp, malicious and verbally articulate, is kind of a mature villain compared to Pleebus’ almost childlike demeanor and language. The kids aren’t exactly angels, either- when they learn of the capabilities of their skateboard, they use it to harass a kid who acted like a jerk to them. These are real characters, and their alien friends are a representation of their desire to live happy lives.
I like that the dialogue flows smoothly. I’ve read a few kids’ books in my day where characters felt robotic and awkward in their attempts to be understood, mostly because the writers felt a need to dumb down language as much as possible to ensure their message got across. In this book, everyone speaks plainly, but they sound normal. Well, everyone except Pleebus and Oom-chaka, of course, but even Subeelp doesn’t sound like the preachy villains of old 80′s cartoons, explaining their motives as if they were really angry brochures. The kids don’t have particularly distinct personalities, which I think is supposed to make it easier to relate to them- they could be you, after all.
The art is very smooth as well, with clean dark linework and a very warm style capable of great expansion into the abstract. The kids themselves look normal and everyday. You could swap their designs and personalities with any other school kid and the story wouldn’t change, which is precisely the point- try imagining one of these kids as yourself. Their alien friends have more exotic designs mixed in with side characters who are basically personified versions of everyday things- a lighthouse with a face, talking lions. Different, but familiar. Very Alice in Wonderland, I suppose, but not quite as trippy. Imaginative, sure, but in a different way.
The netherspace is an especially cool place for Nick to display his thoughts, with clouds that rain words and planetoids connected by staircases. I have to give credit to anyone who can give a skateboard a mouth and make it look anatomically possible. The key element sticking out from his artwork the most is his work on faces. Aside from Subeelp, they’re all bright and happy faces, and they’re highly expressive with emotions no matter what level of detail we’re looking at, whether a face is just a couple of lines and dots or more complicated.
I think this is the kind of thing I’d give to a kid to make him feel better. Hey kid, you sad? Kids making fun of you? Dad’s angry at you? Here’s something to get you daydreaming. Bad feelings have a way of disappearing when you can just fall into your own imagination for a little while. Escapism doesn’t cure everything, but at least it lets you hope better things will come along.
TL;DR: The Magic Skateboard is an imaginative comic where kids have a place to get away from their problems- as long as those problems don’t chase them.