Flight: Explorer, Vol. 1

Flight: Explorer, Vol. 1
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Villard Books, $10.95
Ages: 7-12

Kazu Kibuishi has assembled some of the most imaginative artists working in animation and comics, giving them free reign to create stories of varying length, subject matter, and style for a younger audience. The result is Flight: Explorer, a trimmer, kid-friendly edition of his popular Flight series.

The anthology gets off to a great start with Kibuishi’s contribution, “Copper: Mushroom Crossing.” (Adult readers may recognize Copper and his sardonic dog Fred from previous installments of Flight.) In this episode, boy and dog leapfrog across a gorge filled with sequoia-sized toadstools. Fred makes an excellent child surrogate, voicing the right mixture of fear—he’s initially reluctant to cross the ravine—and bravado—he delights in his new-found skill as he learns how to hop from mushroom cap to mushroom cap.

“Copper” is followed by three more top-notch stories: Johan Matte’s “Perfect Cat,” a darkly funny tale set in ancient Egypt; Kean Soo’s “Jellaby: First Snow,” an appealing variation on the classic child-and-pet pairing (in this case, the pet is a dragon with stunted wings, huge eyes, and a striped purple hide); and Phil Craven’s “Big Mouth,” a morality play starring Little Miss Chatterbox and Mr. Noisy’s kissing cousins. The art is pleasingly varied, though bright colors and bold lines give the collection a greater sense of cohesiveness than the grown-up volumes of Flight.

Of the remaining stories, only two disappoint. Jake Parker’s “Missile Mouse: The Guardian Prophecies” boasts crack pacing and nifty character designs, but is hampered by its generic plot. From the target audience’s perspective, its resemblance to a Saturday morning cartoon isn’t a bad thing, though adults may find it very pedestrian. Ben Hatke’s “Zita the Spacegirl: If Wishes Were Socks” likewise falls short of the mark. The set-up sounds promising: Zita and her pals acquire a magical sock (and a stinky one at that). When they use the sock to conjure a set of like-minded friends, they immediately regret their decision; their dopplegangers’ bad behavior sheds light on the originals’ numerous faults and neuroses. Adults may find the conceit amusing, but the dialogue is too self-consciously clever to entertain the under-twelve set.

By and large, however, Kibuishi has done an excellent job of selecting stories that explore normal childhood issues—fear, loneliness—with humor, imagination, and visual panache instead of finger-wagging and moralizing. This collection makes a terrific introduction to the world of comics for younger readers as well as their curious parents.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Villard Books.

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