Even with a wealth of material now available, both in physical print and via digital services, it can still be a task to discover and acquire texts to introduce new readers to the world of comics. When I am probed to make a recommendation to a young person interested in delving into the comic medium, I must balance my enthusiasm for the form with an understanding that deep, complicated lore may be a turnoff to an uninitiated reader. Some of my favorite runs from Marvel and DC carry with them baggage that necessitates ample synopses prior to reading the first page. Thankfully, publishers have improved in their efforts to get introductory texts into the hands of pre-teen readers, and Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys is a shining example of how to bring new readers into the comic medium.
Having failed to read part one in this series of graphic novels, I worried that I may not have the necessary knowledge of these characters and their world to appreciate the text fully. Fortunately, even young readers (this text is aimed at 8-12 year-olds) can effortlessly pick this text up and situate themselves into the fantastical world Knetzger has crafted. Additionally, while this text is aimed at pre-teen readers, I found myself enjoying it tremendously while reading through it with 4 and 6 year-old daughters, proving that strong visuals and storytelling can be enjoyed by any age.
Bug Boys is a series of short tales centered around our titular protagonists, Stag-B and Rhino-B. Their adventures find them leaving their quiet home to interact with a larger, complicated world as they contemplate their role in this larger society. Each adventure feels like an episode in a surreal children’s program, with a focus on retrieving a magical item or traversing a mysterious castle, but it’s the subtle spin on the tropes that demonstrate Knetzger’s narrative skill.
Embedded in these stock adventures is an exploration of how one can discuss their feelings and better empathize with others. The characters, in their own ridiculous ways, deal with larger philosophical questions that would leave even older readers pondering the possibilities. Notably, my younger daughters did not fully grasp these elements of the text, but those in the targeted age range surely would find the text contemplative and inquiring.
The art style, while minimalist with subdued colors, is expressive and whimsical; we laughed at various points at the contortions characters twisted between. Knetzger was involved in the cartoon Adventure Time and you can see elements of that work in this graphic novel, with its clean lines and restrained dialogue, letting the focused blocking space for the art to carry the narrative forward. It’s an art style that is immediately approachable and fun; you want to read the next adventure to experience the attractiveness of the art.
This nicely bound hardcover fits well into any book bag and should be placed in a young reader’s bag as they head off to school and beyond. Its understated approach to bridging the zany and surreal qualities of modern children’s cartoons with a loftier emphasis on understanding the larger world makes this a delightful introduction to the comic medium. It’s a celebratory adventure from a young creative talent that will worm (pun intended) its way into the hearts of even jaded readers.
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