Howdy! This page is part of a guide to comic books recommended for younger readers (along with some stuff their parents might like as well. This page covers the letter "J", other books are linked to below.

So, come celebrate that groovy, geeky, magical medium that we all grew up on... and share that special sense of wonder with someone smaller and newer than you. By the way, this is a work in progress, and your recommendations are always welcome... )








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"Jellaby, v.1"
Written and illustrated by Kean Soo
(Hyperion, 2008)

A compelling, highly readable series which is easy to zip through and accessible to younger readers, although there are a few mildly troubling notes... The story is about a bright young girl named Portia who meets a large, purple, dragon-like creature which she names Jellaby. One of her classmates, a moody latchkey kid named Jason, finds out about Jellaby, and enlists himself in a mission to help the orphaned monster find his way back home. There are a few pages with disturbing, creepy imagery -- a mysterious cloaked figure, a maniacal adult who menaces Portia when she is quite little -- and an unsettling subplot regarding Portia's missing father. Also, the kids routinely lie to their parents, in kid-like ways that are entirely believable, although parents of smaller children might want to weigh whether they want to put ideas into their kids' heads just to read a cute dragon story. Setting aside my usual overprotectavoid warnings, though, this is a very good read with interesting, manga-ish artwork. Volume One is mainly a set-up for Volume Two: now that we know the characters, what will happen to them on their quest to the Big City, in search of the secret of Jellaby's past? One more volume to go! (B)


"Jellaby, v.2: In The City"
Written and illustrated by Kean Soo
(Hyperion, 2009)

The story concludes with the children escorting the dragon into the big city, looking for a mysterious door that is lodged in their memories. In a carnival funhouse they encounter and older, larger, and decidedly more evil dragon who first attempts to enslave them, then to destroy them when that doesn't work. Portia proves herself to be extraordinarily capable and brave, as do Jellaby and Jason. As with the first volume, this has some creepy imagery and ideas -- not in comparison to most of the horror or action films in the world, but maybe enough to be scary to younger readers who might be attracted by the round-lined, cartoony artwork. (B)


"Johnny Boo, v.1: The Best Little Ghost In The World"
Written and Illustrated by James Kochalka
(Top Shelf Productions, 2008)

A graphic novel series with boardbook simplicity, these books are ideal for the youngest readers, although the stories are so slight, I'm not sure they have much staying power. Then again, maybe they don't have to -- you read 'em a few times, have fun, and move on. This is silly, nonsensical, slightly weird stuff, with bold, thick-lined artwork that's very appealing and easy to grasp. In this first volume, Johnny Boo and his sidekick Squiggle face the dreaded Ice Cream Monster, a big softie who turns out not to be so scary after all. (B)


"Johnny Boo, v.2: Twinkle Power"
Written and Illustrated by James Kochalka
(Top Shelf Productions, 2009)

Another super-goofy adventure featuring Johnny Boo and his pal Squiggle, who spent some time looking up at the stars in the sky, and wonder about their magical "twinkle power." Johnny and Squiggle have a brief spat, each good-naturedly teasing the other, but making them more upset than they'd imagined. They get over it, though... And then, who should appear, but the not-too-fearsome Ice Cream Monster, who turns out to be a bit dim-witted. By the end of things, Ice Cream Monster has fallen over several times, and decides to change his name to Wiggle Monster (when he wiggled his butt, to the great alarm of Johnny Boo and Squiggle, my kid let out a squeal of pre-schoolish delight... Kochalka knows his audience.) Once again, a delightfully ephemeral story -- a fun read that probably won't stick in your mind long, but goes down easy and adds a nice bit of nonsense to your world. (B)


"Johnny Boo, v.3: The Happy Apples"
Written and Illustrated by James Kochalka
(Top Shelf Productions, 2009)


"Johnny Boo, v.4: The Mean Little Boy"
Written and Illustrated by James Kochalka
(Top Shelf Productions, 2008)


"Best Of Josie And The Pussycats"
Written and Illustrated by Dan DeCarlo, et. al.
(Archie Comics, 2001)

A fun collection of old adventures of Josie and The Pussycats, an Archie-related strip best remembered from the late 1960s Saturday morning cartoon show of the same name. Originally, Josie was a regular, old teen cutie/good girl art comic, created by Dan DeCarlo in 1963, with tales of teenage hijinx and feminine wiles that were pretty similar to the "Betty And Veronica" stories, stylishly drawn with sexist scripts, but with a different cast of characters. In 1969, Josie was revamped to become "Josie And The Pussycats," with Josie and her pals forming an all-female bubblegum band that was sort of the "girl" equivalent of The Archies. If you set aside the not-too-subtle sexism of having the band dressed in Playboy bunny-ish leopardskin costumes, these are pretty groovy stories. Although this is a great collection, it could be better. The focus is on the band, a concept that came after Josie had been around for years, so the earlier, perkier episodes of the original Here's Josie comic are passed over pretty quickly. The first Josie story, from 1963, is included, and the artwork is so stylish and so cool, you'll wish (as I do) that they would go back and reissue all the original stories in chronological order: it's vintage DeCarlo, the sleek sort of stuff that inspired "Love And Rockets" artist Jaime Hernandez, so good, you'll thirst for more. The late psychedelic '60s and early '70s take up most of the book, which is rounded off by a couple of later episodes from the 1980s, when the Pussycats got a mild punk/new wave makeover. All in all, this is a very enjoyable collection, definitely worth picking up if you like to read vintage Archie stuff. But put me down as voting in favor of a more complete reissue of the earliest, most DeCarlo-icious episodes. That would be awesome! (B+)


"Journey Into Mohawk Country"
Written and illustrated by Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert
Illustrated by George O'Connor
(First Second/Roaring Brook Press, 2006)

I am a big sucker for early frontier lore -- Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, the journals of Lewis & Clark, "The Last Of The Mohicans," William Messner-Loebs' still-captivating "Journey," et. al. -- and the more historically accurate the story, the better. This slim graphic novel is a humor-laced visualization of a real journal kept by a Dutch trade representative who was dispatched into the heart of Mohawk territory (now upstate New York) during the winter of 1634-35, in order to buffer the Dutch trade rights against the encroachments of French traders in the North, who were slowly taking over the still-active trade in beaver pelts. The trip was perilous and bold, but also tiresome and grubby at times, with van den Bogaert and his two companions slogging through the backwoods while being handed off to a series of guides from various villages and tribes. Illustrator George O'Connor is slightly disingenuous when he credits the Dutch journal-keeper as the sole author of this book, since in adapting the text for comicbook format, he takes great liberty not only in crafting the ambiance of the book, but also creating a visually-based subtext in which we see the Mohawk tribesmen rolling their eyes at the trio of European interlopers, a parallel narrative in which the men inadvertently ruffle the feathers of their hosts in a variety of circumstances. I don't wholly buy the idea that these three Europeans were dundering, befuddled idiots -- I suspect they had to be made of sterner stuff to be sent out into the rough, snowy frontier of the 1630s -- but it works as a narrative device, not only spicing up the otherwise dry original text, but also providing opportunities to imbue the native Americans with depth and dimension. This is a very lively, ribald depiction of life on the very early American frontier, and would make great supplemental reading to a course on American colonial history, or a Native American studies course. It's also just a great, fun read. Recommended! (B+)




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