Review: ‘Home Time’
Writer/artist: Campbell Whyte
Top Shelf Productions; $24.99
Throughout C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, school children stumble into a fantasy world, where they are hailed as prophesied saviors, arriving just when they are needed to stave off one great evil or another. In cartoonist Campbell Whyte’s Home Time, school children stumble into a fantasy world, where they are hailed as prophesied saviors, arriving to stave off a great evil. Though riffing on Lewis’ long-established—although often borrowed, tweaked and modified—basic premise, that is about where Whyte’s work diverges from the Narnia books, even though it continues to slyly comment on the tropes they popularized.
While Lewis’s stories were prose, with only Pauline Baynes’s delicate illustrations to help young readers visualize the action in their imaginations, Whyte’s is told in comics form. While we barely meet Lewis’s child heroes before they leave the mundane world for the charming fantasy world, we spend 32 big, full pages with Whyte’s, getting to know all six of them, and their various characters and conflicts, rather thoroughly before they leave the real world for the fantasy one. And while Lewis’s children are mostly virtuous blank slates, with only the occasional naughty or selfish kid who will change their ways during the course of their adventure, Whyte’s are more complex characters, with a wide variety of reactions to the strange stimuli they are presented with.
These kids are twins David and Lily Watanabe and their friends Ben, Amanda, Nathan, and Laurence. They have just finished their last day of primary school, and are preparing to kick off their very last summer vacation—or “home time,” as I guess it is called in Whyte’s native Australia—before high school with a sleepover at Laurence’s house. We follow them on their walk from school to a shop for snacks on their long walk to Laurence’s, and then they fall into the river, and five of them wash up in a strange, new world.
This is the world of “the peaches,” cartoony humanoid creatures who believe the five kids—Laurence is missing—are god-like spirits from a different world, each of them having a special sphere of influence, and all of them there to help protect the peaches in their war with the lizards (who we don’t actually see in this volume, the first in a series).
The kids play along, and are gradually integrated into the life of the peaches, but they are ill-equipped to fulfill their spiritual duties…or deal with an army of lizards. They exhibit a variety of different coping mechanisms and degrees of acceptance. Amanda and David, for example, just want to go back home to the real world and their real lives as soon as possible, and while she reluctantly, meekly plays along, David belligerently refuses. Ben and Nathan take to the new world with gusto, the former going native almost immediately. And Lily? Well, Lily seems to go a little bit insane. By the final chapter, it begins to feel like Lord of The Flies may have been as big an influence on the work as The Chronicles of Narnia.
Like The Wizard of Oz, the film based on another seminal book about an ordinary child visiting an extraordinary world, there’s a strong visual break that denotes the mundane world from the magical one. Whyte’s initial chapter features pencil art atop a yellowish paper, with colors indicated only by the closeness of the line work. It’s somehow even less colorful than black-and-white art might be. When they wake up in the peaches’ world, it is now in full color, and the line work is darker and more solid.
Whyte doesn’t stop at a simple Wizard of Oz homage, though. The next chapter changes art styles again, the pencil seemingly exchanged for ink, the colors more solid. In the next chapter, the style changes yet again. In fact, every chapter features a different art style. The designs remain more-or-less consistent, varying only slightly, but the method used to put them on the page and conjure the worlds around them changes regularly, so that the tone and feel of each chapter is completely different than the one that preceded it and the one that follows it.
Whyte’s world-building is as impressive as his ambitious story and his mastery of the half-dozen styles he wears. The narrative will occasionally pause for two-page spreads of nothing but still, silent images of details of the flora, fauna, buildings, and objects. Between chapters are maps and charts of the kids’ school, their new peach-world accommodations, the layout of the peach village, and other texture-providing visual elements, like music and lyrics for school songs or diary entries.
The world they arrive in is a weird one, extremely idiosyncratic and built more out of Whyte’s imagination than any obvious bits of source material, but no aspect of it is left mysterious to fully engaged reader, who in these sections can find out more about the behavioral habits of the large birds that serve as pack animals, the various functions of every strange object in the kids’ titanic tree house home, and even how one goes to the bathroom in the peach village.
With its basic construction built on a foundation of kids’ fantasy classics, but with the specifics of its world unique and the psychological drama wild and unpredictable as the pre-teen mind, Home Time feels both comfortably familiar and refreshingly new and unusual at the same time. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a comic quite like it.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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