Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, February 23, 2017

It's All In The Wand

In those homes receiving the daily newspaper in print or online, one of the most widely read sections is still the comics.  The popularity of individual comic books has continued to rise in the last five years.  Matching the popularity of comic books is graphic novels.  It's nearly impossible to keep these titles on the shelves in our school and classroom libraries even with multiple copies.

Three cartoonists worked together to create Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles Into Comics (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, April 9, 2009).  This title was followed by Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special! (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, September 18, 2012), and Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, October 8, 2013).  All three books have enjoyed places on professional and state award lists.

In 2015 the cartoonists, James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost released the first in a series of books focusing on the Knight and her faithful horse, Edward.  The first, Sleepless Knight (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, April 7, 2015), follows the dynamic twosome on an eventful camping trip.  As you might guess, not everything goes according to plan.

This will be the BEST camping trip EVER!

With nothing left behind in the packing, especially her Teddy, the hopeful Knight leads an overloaded Edward across the drawbridge toward a new and exciting escapade.  After what appears to be a long and arduous trek, they stop for the night to make camp...still in sight of the castle.  A crackling fire and an overindulgence of marshmallows set the stage for a restful night for the Knight and Edward, who is passed out from pure pleasure.

To her dismay the Knight can't find Teddy.  She unintentionally awakens not one but two woodland creatures.  Heading back to her tent and Edward a discovery is made which changes the entire evening for the Knight, Edward and the two woodland creatures.  Pass the marshmallows, please.

Gryphons Aren't So Great (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, September 8, 2015), the second volume, draws our attention to the Knight's deep desire to fly.  In fact when the story opens she and Edward are defying the odds by jumping off a cliff.  When they land safely in water, she and Edward catch sight of something they should not be seeing.

Faster, Edward! FASTER!
We're flying! YEE-HAW!

A gryphon has left the mountain heights to soar near the castle.  Edward tries and fails to protect the Knight but she is able to calm the strong beast.  In no time at all the Knight is flying on the back of the gryphon promising to return soon.  Edward can't follow her, so he waits and waits and waits.  After darkness falls and the stars are shining a voice calls out to Edward.  This being makes an offer Edward can't refuse.

In the morning the Knight awakens to see the gryphon is waiting for her on the ramparts.  They take off climbing higher and faster.  Yikes!  They might be too high!  Another form comes into view.  The Knight is in serious peril.  How can Edward possibly help her?  Horses can't fly.

A game of fetch with Edward is interrupted by loud rumbling.  It can't possibly be thunder because the sky is blue with fluffy white clouds.  When the Knight looks in the same direction as Edward, she gets a shock. Ogres Awake! (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, July 12, 2016), the third title, takes a tantalizing turn.
John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, revealed this cover on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.

C'mon, Edward!
Bring it back!!

Not one, not two, not three and not four but five giant ogres are sleeping in front of the Knight's tower castle.  Lickety-split she and Edward ride to warn the King of the danger to the kingdom.  Strangely enough the King would rather read a comic than heed her warnings because he has a plan in place.  Her help is needed to make this plan succeed.

As each step of the strategy is revealed the Knight is more and more puzzled.  Her weapon of choice, her sword, is exchanged for another implement.  It is not until the final moment amid shouts of


as the ogres are crashing into the castle, that readers along with the Knight, will understand.  Does anyone have another spoon?

On January 24, 2017 the fourth book, Hocus Focus (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) was released.  Like the previous three books, the Knight and her loyal steed, Edward find themselves in a situation unlike any of the other predicaments.  Impatience nearly destroys everything.

Wizard! I'm ALWAYS stuck peeling vegetables!
You promised you would teach me MAGIC!

Well, this magic potion requires peeled turnips to be added slowly over three days...
It's all about the turnips...

The wizard leaves fully expecting the Knight to peel all the turnips.  She has other ideas.  Sneaking into the wizard's study she discovers all sorts of amazing ingredients, a book, Transformations for All Occasions, and the wizard's wand.  Taking the wand and book, she and Edward set off to concoct a spell of giant proportions.

Still as impatient as ever the Knight does not follow the instructions of the spell as she should.

Let's just DOUBLE the recipe...
This way, we don't have to cook it for so long.

As she reads from the book, Edward is following the directions until a worst case scenario happens.  The words and wand in the incapable hands of the Knight backfire in a HUGE way.  Bunny slippers are lost but a wand is found.  There might be a lot of puke involved...and of course, turnips.

The short sentences liberally laced with humor guaranteed to generate laughter make this most recent book and the three earlier ones perfect for the youngest readers.  Sound effects and one or two word exclamations add to the attraction.  The contrast in the non-speaking Edward and the talkative Knight heightens the hilarity.  The final words by the Knight are the crowning comedic touch.  Here is another conversation.

It's easy to do magic when you have a magic wand!
C'mon Edward! If the wizard won't teach us magic, then we'll
just have to figure it out for ourselves!

Drawn and colored in Adobe Photoshop using a Wacom tablet, with text hand-lettered on Vellum paper using Staedtler pigment liner pens, the images throughout are fully animated in a bright full color palette.  Readers will enjoy looking at the tiny details throughout the book like those seen on the front of the book case; gems, a skull, a red feather, lab vessels, black cats and of course, the worm and the wand.  On the opening endpapers step-by-step directions for drawing the Knight on the left and Edward on the right are given.  (This is in all four books.) Each of them is shown in a variety of moods and activities.  The Knight is doing the Boogie Woogie and playing a tuba.  Edward is floating in a ducky inner tube in the water sipping a drink and he is also a space explorer.  In the three previous books, how to draw the new characters is shown on the closing endpapers.  In this latest book eight mix and match bodies are revealed.  These are sure to produce plenty of giggles and grins.

The panels in this title are two or three to a page.  Sometimes one panel will cover an entire page. For most of the pages it will be two vertical illustrations or two squares over or under a vertical picture.  All of them are outlined in a black line.  The speech bubbles blend very well into each panel.  Bold text and punctuation creates the narrative's pacing.

We never seen the Knight's face as her helmet is always down but her body positions combined with her voice leave no doubt as to her emotional state.  Edward's facial expressions are funny with a capital F.  His body shape, on the chubby side, is a constant and highly chucklesome element.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the Knight and Edward are pouring more ingredients into the cauldron to double the recipe.  The ground is littered with empty bottles and cartons.  A small fire burns under the pot.  Pink goo is running over the side as purple smoke rises into the air.  At this point you know something is about to happen.

Hocus Focus written and illustrated by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost is another rollicking romp with two forever friends, the Knight and her horse, Edward.  It's fascinating to see the interplay of this duo as they survive their adventures.  Hand this (these) book(s) to anyone who loves a good story, enjoys cartooning and is a fan of graphic novels.

You can learn more about James Sturm and Alexis Frederick-Frost and their other work by following the links attached to their names.  For more information about each of the previous books please follow the links attached to the titles.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior pages for this fourth book. The exclusive cover reveal is here.  James Sturm is interviewed at Comics Alliance about the Adventures in Cartooning books.  All three creators take part in a discussion at Paste.

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