Papercutz is one of the few publishers out there with a distinct focus on producing quality graphic works for young readers. Launched in 2005, their line is specifically aimed at readers ages 8-14 and includes titles like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys as well as Illustrated Classics. They also publish the graphic novels of the popular Geronimo Stilton series, and other licensed titles. I got to take a look at two of their winter releases, both translations from French publisher Lombard, and I would have to say that they are meeting their mission well. With strong characters and great writing, Papercutz is producing books with a definite focus on not just creating graphic novels for kids, but creating GOOD graphic novels for kids, treating them with the respect of solid characters and good stories that don't talk down to a younger reader. Ernest & Rebecca Volume 1, "My Best Friend Is A Germ"
Rebecca is an adorable six year old girl who is sick a lot. Of course, this doesn't stop her from going on adventures, like the fateful day she wanders outside to catch frogs in a rainstorm and catches super microbe Ernest. Part actual sickness part imaginary friend, Ernest keeps Rebecca home from school while also protecting her from other germs. He wants her all to himself!
The world of Ernest & Rebecca has a healthy dose of magical realism that allows the reader to never be 100% sure if Ernest is real or simply a figment of Rebecca's imagination, but what is most important is that Rebecca believes in him. He becomes her closest friend and ally as she watches her parents argue and separate from her six-year-old point of view. And that's the true beauty of this book. Even while being aimed at a younger audience, it's not all slapstick and shenanigans. The story, written by Guillaume Bianco, manages to deal with a real world issue in a way that is sensitive so a child's views without pulling any punches. It is a clever and heartfelt read that will speak volumes to an adult reader, and give younger readers great characters they will want to return to in Volume 2.
The art supports this balanced tone perfectly. Antonello Dalena's art gives a great balance of whimsy and reality. The characters are real and relatable. Their emotions are easy to follow just through the art, and that is a special feat when one of your main characters is a shape shifting, possibly imaginary, three-foot-tall microbe. It is a great cartoony style that allows for just enough of the previously mentioned magical realism without being over-the-top. A big round of applause also has to go to colorist Cecilia Giumento in this, who's use of a large pastel palette, from Rebecca's pink hair to Ernest's light mint body, keeps the art in a kind dream world. The people and backgrounds are bright without being overpowering and the colors are just off enough from the real world that you are able to suspend disbelief without being totally out of this world.
I would recommend Ernest & Rebecca for any younger reader, though particularly girls. It will be especially poignant for children dealing with a parent's separation, though the story, and Rebecca, is sure to delight any young adventurer. Look for Volume 1 in stores or support Spandexless by buying it from our web store. Look for Volume 2 in February 2012.
Sybil the Backpack Fairy Volume 1, "Nina"
Aimed at a slightly older audience than Ernest & Rebecca, Sybil the Backpack Fairy follows Nina, a middle school girl with a baby brother and a working single mom who between her job and the baby doesn't seem to have time to worry about Nina. A bit of an outcast at school, she's got her two best friends and a penchant for getting into trouble. Or at the very least being blamed for things. Enter Sybil and Pandigole. Sybil is a fairy and Pandigole her gremlinesque personal assistant. She lives in Nina's backpack and promises to do all of Nina's homework, math tests and any other work she wants. In exchange all Nina has to do is feed her and not tell anyone! Seems like the perfect deal to any middle schooler struggling to get along. It also seems too good to be true...
With a story that spans both the magical world of Sybil and Pandigole and the mundane world of Nina and her family, writer Michel Rodrigue creates a fine mix of characters that are both relatable and alien. In just the first volume the story manages to test the limits of magic, imagination, and Nina's mother's patience while adding on layers of mystery and magic that provide just enough intrigue for a more sophisticated reader, without being so convoluted to be a turn off. The deal between Sybil and Nina is definitely too good to be true, and the reader gets hints of this throughout the story, even if Nina doesn't realize it until it's too late.
The art in this book is once again by Antonello Dalena, thought this time along with Manuela Razzi. The style, from Nina's unimpressed expressions to Sybil's stockings and legwarmers definitely have a more teen sensibility than Ernest & Rebecca, which is supported by sharper lines and more distinct, less cartoony features than the younger title. Colors are once again by Cecilia Giumento, who continues to use a palette of bright yet soft colors to meld the real and supernatural seamlessly.
With a great cliffhanger, fast-paced action scenes and a nemesis in both the real and supernatural world, Sybil the Backpack Fairy builds a rich, inventive world that will definitely appeal to an older middle grade or teen reader. Even I can't wait for volume 2! You can pick up Volume 1 in stores, or support Spandexless by purchasing through our web store. Look for Volume 2 in stores in April 2012.
Review PDFs of Ernest & Rebecca and Sybil the Backpack Fairy were graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.