Created by: Cece Bell, Peanuts, Jennifer & Matthew Holm, Jason Shiga, Cecil Castellucci & Sara Varon, Jeffrey Brown, Nathan Hale, and Jarret Krosoczka
Published By: Random House
Price: $7.99 U.S. (On sale January 26, 2016)
Every once in awhile, it’s good to remind ourselves that comics really are a kids’ medium. Yes, we adult geeks haven’t truly outgrown our love of childhood funnybooks, but we’re not the eternal lifeblood of this market. Children are. Comics as a medium needs a continual supply of new kids to come in and discover the joy of the interplay between words and pictures that tells a story that unique way that only a comic can. These kids are our future writers, artists, editors, and shopkeepers for the industry. It behooves us to introduce children to comics, and if we don’t have children ourselves, then at least to our nieces and nephews, or our friends’ and neighbors’ kids, or wherever we can find them.
Fortunately, amazing things have been happening between the comics medium and children’s publishing. In the last decade, children’s publishers have realized that kids are very responsive to comics, so they’re publishing more and more titles in funnybook format. Where comic authors were once relegated to indy publishing if they couldn’t crack Marvel or DC, now they’re finding an avenue to publish at places like Scholastic Books and some of the other major presses.
So Random House has gotten in on the fun with the Comics Squad anthology series. At least, I assume this is a series–the last one of these (Comics Squad: Recess) was published in summer of 2014, which is significant gap between volumes. Nonetheless, like its predecessor, Comics Squad is a nice opportunity to introduce a kid you know to the world of kids’ comics by presenting eight sampler-sized stories from a variety of big names in the industry. As the “Lunch” title suggests, most of these shorts are themed around the traditional elementary school lunch break, making it familiar and fun to the school-age reader. Here’s what you get:
“Crazy Little Thing Called Lunch” by Cece Bell (El Deafo, Sock Monkey) is a silly short about a girl who suffers an allergic reaction and begins hallucenating the world around her as talking food.
“Snoopy in Lunchtime Beagle” (credited to “Peanuts” but really done by Vicki Scott, Paige Braddock, and Donna Almendrala) is less a story and more a series of vignetttes about everyone’s favorite beagle working as a cafeteria worker at the school. It’s not a Schultz original, but it’s a worthy replica of what we like about Peanuts.
“Babymouse: Lunch Table Champion” by Jennifer and Matthew Holm is a short story about the struggle for control of a lunchroom table, something we probably all experienced as kids. The Holms have been publishing Babymouse for over a decade, so this short may be an avenue of familiarity for children who have already read her books.
The most unorthodox story in “Lunch” is easily Jimmy Shiga’s “Little Jimmy: Kid Detective in the Case of the Missing Science Project.” Shiga is reputable for writing “choose your own adventure” comics, and he does so in this case with an interactive story that requires the reader to jump around the story through a series of choices. The advantage here is that kids can read this one again and again and see where different choices lead
“Pikput and Cullen in Worst Day Ever” (Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon) is about diametrically opposed kids (one a nerd, one a jock) being brought together by their lunches. In my opinion, the ending isn’t particularly surprising–but younger kids who haven’t seen the “enemies come together” trope too often at a young age should enjoy it.
“Lucy and Andy Neanderthal: Cave Soup” is a foretaste of Jeffrey Brown’s new venture now that he’s done with the “Jedi Academy” and “Darth Vader and Son” books. This another “rival kids work together” story; though set in prehistoric times, it amusingly works in contemporary kids’ behavior and manages to throw in a few factoids about cavemen. This one may appeal to kids who enjoyed Brown’s Star Wars stuff.
“Lunch Bomb 1943” is a slightly more serious tale that recounts the true story of the U.S.S. O’Bannon and how its crew defeated a Japanese ship using an extremely unorthodox weapon. It’s a very cute story written under the guide of a history lesson by the historic Nathan Hale…whom, yes, the author shares a name with. This story alone gives you an excuse to buy the book, because it’s educational (but really, it’s fun).
Lastly, “Lunch Girl and the Ominous Origin” is Jarrett Krosoczka’s prequel to his Lunch Lady series of comics. This one is grounded in the more familiar themes of childhood bullying and popularity but still stays grounded in humor. As a bonus, Krosoczka includes a quick art lesson at the end for the budding artist.
I ran this anthology by my nine year-old daughter, who loved it. The only story she had trouble with was the “Little Jimmy” story with the page-flipping feature being a little confusing for her. (At least one of Shiga’s directional arrows was missing, and some of the others don’t seem to work. Hopefully this will be fixed in the final copy.) Once we worked through it together, it became easier for her to understand how the story worked.
At $7.99, this is a reasonably-priced collection of stories to get a kid started on comics. It’s also relatively compact–it’s the perfect size to slip into a kid’s lunchbox or backpack to surprise them at school. If this book has any downside, it’s that Random House isn’t releasing it until late January. This is the kind of thing that would fit well in a Christmas stocking, so it’s too bad the general public has to wait. Consider getting it as a Valentine’s gift when February rolls around.
Rating: Four and a half out of five school lunches.