It’s been a while since I’ve written about any all-ages books, and this month has a few that are worth mentioning.
“Saltwater Taffy: Caldera’s Revenge, Part I” (Oni Press) – Jack and Benny Putnam are back with a new New England adventure in the latest graphic novel in Matthew Loux’s (“Sidescrollers”) inventive series.
It’s the first multi-issue story arc, and it’s a big tale that definitely needs more room.
The Putnam Boys were dragged to the coastal Maine town of Chowder Bay by their parents. Not expecting to have any fun, they’ve wound up having a bunch of grand adventures with giant eagles, giant lobsters, ghosts and all sorts of talking critters. Summer vacation couldn’t be more fun.
This story opens on the open seas, as a sea captain spies a ghostly ship on the horizon and some sort of disturbance almost destroys his rig. We then switch to the pub, where some of the town’s crusty older residents are swapping stories. You want to call them tall tales, but you never know in Chowder Bay. (I really want to see more of the Legendary Wandering Pine.)
Then Jack and Benny finally make an appearance and promptly discover a talking giant squid kid who was separated from his family by a giant whale. Adventure ensues.
“Salt Water Taffy” has been such as fun series because its tongue is firmly in cheek while being entirely sincere. Everything works in Loux’s carefully crafted world of Chowder Bay, and the idea of a bunch of seagulls donning a trench coat to crash a hot dog barbecue doesn’t seem that out of place.
Loux’s off-kilter art style only adds to the fun. GRADE: A-
“Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown” (kaboom!) – This hardcover graphic novel is an adaptation of the cute new “Peanuts” video of the same name.
Linus’ grandmother is coming for a visit, and his sister, Lucy, and friends try to break him of the habit before she arrives to take the blanket away entirely. Interspersed are other classic-feeling vignettes: baseball games, Lucy bothering Schroeder at his piano, Snoopy and his supper dish.
It feels like the TV special adaptations I used to read as a kid (wow, just had a memory of reading them at the bowling alley when my mom was in a league). And the book is just as cute as the new special.
Stephan Patsis (“Pearls Before Swine”) was tasked with stringing together dozes of Charles Schulz’s strips involving Linus and his beloved blanket, and does a fine job. Artists Bob Scott, Vicki Scott and Ron Zorman do a pretty good job of emulating Schulz’s style, but it’s not perfect.
Overall, though, it’s like reading an old-fashioned “Peanuts” book. I hope a new generation can appreciate it as much as older generations. GRADE: B
“Missing Linx” (Viper Comics) – Viper Comics doesn’t get a lot of press, but they’ve done some really fun books for the all-ages market. Favorites include “Emily Edison,” “A Bit Haywire,” “Kid Houdini and the Silver Dollar Misfits” and “The Sleepy Truth.” (I’m still holding out for more of the last two.)
And, of course, they published the awesome “The Middleman,” which became a canceled-in-its-prime TV series on ABC Family.
So I had high hopes for “Missing Linx,” about a team of Bigfoot variations pulled here from a dimension where our mythical beasts are real. They meet a father and his sons, who were camping in the woods, and must save the world from a mad scientist trying to unleash more mythological mayhem.
And I’m sorry to say “Missing Linx” doesn’t live up to its predecessors. The team of Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquatch and Skunk Ape are saddled with some pretty bad dialogue by writer Dale Mettam (“Battle Smash”), especially Yeti’s overuse of “dude.” It also has some pretty bad stereotyping in its depiction of the slant-eyed, yellow-skinned evil Dr. Bedfellow and his equally offensive assistant Chan.
And it has the unfortunate timing (and I know Viper has no control over this) of dealing with a nuclear disaster and leaking radiation while a similar problem is still going on in Japan. It feels too soon.
The book does have several good pop culture references, including a knowing nod to “The Middleman” and the likes of “Clash of the Titans” and “The Simpsons.” Courtney Huddleston’s (“A Bit Haywire”) art is clean, and the character designs (except for the villains) are good, but they’re all not enough to save it.
I do love the idea. I’m surprised Hanna-Barbera or Ruby-Spears didn’t do it in the ’80s for Saturday morning. And it’s left sufficiently open for sequels. I just hope follow-ups are more carefully crafted. GRADE: C-