By Barnaby Richards
Level One, grades K-1
A robot’s spaceship crash-lands on a strange planet, where he encounters strange creatures, both friendly and scary, and eventually finds a friend.
That’s the very simple plot of this very complicated comic, which is due out next month from TOON Books. Like many TOON books, it is both sophisticated enough for adults to appreciate and a lot of fun for kids.
The story starts on the endpapers, with a rocket flying through an outer space filled with blobs and other odd shapes. Richards uses a simple three-word vocabulary (“Bleep! Blip! Oops!”) to convey the action; it’s a good way to show how punctuation changes the meaning of words. When the pointed tip of the spaceship gets stuck in a mountain, the little robot hops out and is immediately scared away by a loud banging. He travels across the planet, having short encounters with a a variety of creatures, some friendly, some not.
One of the really fun things about this story is the little visual tricks that Richards pulls: A bush in the background suddenly has an eye, and on the next page it turns out to be a fire-breathing dragon. In another sequence, the robot hides in the bushes, but we can see the top of his hat sticking out. And the robot himself, while seemingly made up of simple shapes, indicates his feelings not only through his facial expressions but also through the little oscilloscope screen on his chest. Who knew a sine wave could express so much emotion? Children can have a lot of fun picking out these little details, especially on the second and third reading, when they know they are coming.
Blip! is a very comic-y comic. The words and pictures are closely intertwined to make a complete story, and it makes use of standard comics conventions such as sound effects and paneling. Words such as “BANG,” “SPLASH,” and “SHHHHHHH” are rendered in ways that magnify their effect, for instance, and Richards varies the size of his panels and sometimes keeps a continuous landscape across several panels, with the figure moving through them, to indicate motion through time.
All this will be lost on young readers, and most older ones too, who will surely get lost in the story. Richards runs the gamut of emotions from scary to funny to sad as the little robot encounters different characters—including one human, a black girl who is an astronaut.
The story also has a pleasing circularity, as the banging that scared the little robot in the beginning turns out to be another robot (apparently a girl, as she’s wearing a skirt) who is working on her own spaceship. For the first time, the robot finds someone who can understand his language, and the two take off in the new spaceship, with a happy cacophony of bleeps and blips.
Blip! is a smart book that offers an engaging story as well as amazingly detailed artwork and an assortment of visual puzzles that are fun for adults and children alike to decode. The vocabulary is simple enough for early readers, and they can have a lot of fun reading the sound effects out loud with varying intonations. Some of the monsters may be a bit scary for more timid readers, but the story is funny and heart-warming, and this is a book that is a great read the first time and gets even better with repeated readings.
Filed under: Reviews
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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