Thursday, April 15, 2010

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: Secret Science Alliance

Every now and again, I end up feeling the need to review something different, such as Secret Science Alliance.

This particular book, or rather graphic novel, is a children's book, and obviously so. (Google it for yourself if you're interested-there's not really a convenient information site that I can find on short order.) I likely wouldn't have seen it, except that my little brother saw it at the library and had to read it.

After glimpsing a few pages of it, I knew I had to read it for myself.

It's definitely written for children. It's over-the-top goofy, simple, and completely straightforward. It's also uncondescending and genuine, in a way that reminds me somewhat of Calvin & Hobbes (though don't look for mildly subversive hidden commentary).

The book is about the adventures of three young students (reputedly Junior High level, though the stubby proportions of two of the three make that mildly dubious) who love science and inventing. Thus, they formed a secret club, partly on the insistence of one of their members who believes that adults will steal their inventions and take credit for them. (This character gives off strong Calvin vibes. These days, that makes me cringe a bit, because with an eight-year-old brother I have a lot of sympathy for parents and teachers, but I'll excuse it here.)

What makes it engaging is the mastery of the comic form that the author displays. It's no wonder that Scott McCloud calls her one of the most innovative voices in the field. Each page displays a craftsmanship that suggests great care, without detracting from the fun of the book.

The most common use of the medium that comes to mind is the use of speech bubbles. Frequently, characters would have conversations of middling to low relevance and secondary importance to another conversation or some image in the scene such as a character's expressions. Rather than simply exclude the speech bubbles entirely, they tend to get covered by other speech bubbles or, more commonly, panel borders.

If I was a college professor teaching a class on the comic medium, this would be a required reading selection in my class.

What more can I really say about it? It's a great little graphic novel that's fun if you like children's adventures along the lines of a non-imaginary Calvin & Hobbes. I must recommend it.

-Signing off.

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