Mixed in with my usual mail from last week (bills, incessant missives from local political crackpot Virginia Foxx, etc.) was the new children’s cartooning how-to book, Adventures in Cartooning. The book’s published by First Second and, as the cover’s “The Center for Cartoon Studies Presents” notes, was put together by three CCS folks: James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost. The book doesn’t mention who did what specifically, but I’d wager, based on the art in his great debut book of a few years back, La Primavera, that Alexis Frederick-Frost handled a lot of the art, and certainly the inking.
Adventures owes a great debt–one that it explicitly acknowledges itself–to children’s art instructor/writer Ed Emberly. In books like Emberly’s Make a World, he shows kids how to construct an entire world of easy-to-draw people, places and things using simple basic shapes. The premise behind Adventures is similar: the book uses a set of simply-drawn objects, builds a comics story using only those objects, and while doing so tries to show kids the basic “toolkit” of comics-making. Here’s the page from the book where the base objects are presented:
The premise of the story is fairly straightforward: a knight sets off to slay a dragon, but with the knight on his quest is a “magic cartooning elf,” who along the way explains about things like panels, how to show motion and movement, and how words and pictures interact. Rather that present this sort of information in a straight-ahead “how-to” fashion, though, the book cleverly creates story elements that allow these discussions to crop up as part of the narrative. Here, for example, the Knight (now sans elf) encounters a bunch of other knights that have been turned into vegetables, but in order to understand them, their word balloons have to be untangled and placed in the order in which they need to be read:
It’s easy to imagine this overdone and the story just becoming a bunch of cobbled-together excuses for some narration about how comics work. Fortunately, though, this isn’t the case, and the story is mainly just a fun adventure–with the teaching elements occurring sporadically and integrated pretty seamlessly. The flip side of this, however, is that there’re a lot of good cartooning “tricks” in use in the story that aren’t explicitly pointed out to the reader–like here, where the panels are set up on the page in a rising tier to mimic the upward motion of the horse and rider:
I actually really like that the writers have chosen not to point out each and every formal comics device throughout the book. If there’s a common flaw to a lot of the children’s literature I’ve read, (and my reading of this stuff has increased by about a million percent of late, since my daughter has now become really interested in books–and just just to chew on) it’s underestimating how much kids are capable of picking up on without being beaten over the head with it.
My own daughter is still far too young to serve as a real “test subject” for this book, but overall Adventures in Cartooning looks fantastic and I look forward to giving it a real trial run in a few years.
Published by First Second | 112 pages | Available in April (I think)