Funnybook Babylon

March 23, 2007

Funnybooks your young niece or nephew would love!

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Gabe Mariani @ 8:30 am

I’ve seen many recommendation lists that suggest a number of series (or original graphic novels) to loan to a friend that might get him interested in comics. They usually contain titles as varied as Watchmen by Alan Moore, Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, and Fell by Warren Ellis. These are good introductions to the medium, but they don’t all appeal to the same type of reader. That’s where Funnybooks ___________ would love! comes in. This week: Funnybooks your young niece or nephew would love!

Every now and then, a new column about funnybooks will begin with a heavy-handed, pretentious introduction because the author could not think of any other way to introduce the damn thing.

This is one of those columns.

And I can’t think of any way to introduce this damn thing. Moving on…

With these columns, I’ll be providing specific recommendation lists for all those unique, potential funnybook-readers out there (or already-readers who want to test out a new genre). Every now and again I’ll highlight a particular creator’s best works or a character’s best stories for the same reasons, but only when I’m having trouble coming up with an idea for a new column, or while I’m doing research (i.e. reading tons of comics) for one.

While I read and enjoy a wide variety of comics – from Jeph Loeb’s early Superman/Batman issues to relatively unknown series like Stray Bullets – these columns will be filtered through my own tastes. Once in a while I’ll bring in a guest to write up a series or two in a genre I’m not well versed in to try to keep things fresh and balanced, but it’s going to be mostly all me.

Which could, I suppose, turn out to be a very bad thing.

But I’m sure you’ll all love it.

I’ll be here at the end of every week (coincidentally, the same time you’ll get your paycheck to blow on new funnybooks). Hopefully, the first column – Funnybooks your young niece or nephew would love – will inspire you to buy someone a present.


Bone is a funnybook series by Jeff Smith that’s wildly popular; I’m sure you’ve seen copies of the newly printed color versions in book stores’ “graphic novel” section. It’s also published in the original black-and-white in a phonebook-sized one-volume edition, but this might be too intimidating for a youngster. The colored versions are even cheaper than the B&W softcover trades on Amazon.

The characters in Bone are easy to fall in love with – even the crafty and selfish Phoney Bone. Smith’s characterization is one of the series’ best qualities, and he writes character interactions extremely well. The schoolboy crush Fone Bone has on Thorn and their relationship together is my favorite subplot throughout the series. Almost every individual who speaks more than a few words in the series has a fascinating back story, and they are handled with as much care as any of the book’s featured characters.

Combine this with the valley’s wide array of locations, creatures, and the magical nature of the series, and you have a complex world that’s very easy to get lost in. Smith’s art brings the world to life, and often I’d find myself lingering over a page or panel just to take in every last detail. It was almost depressing when I turned that last page, because it felt like I was leaving my friends behind.

Bone deals with themes any child can understand and appreciate – friendship, family, responsibility, sacrifice. While the first few trades are much more loose and carefree and would probably skew a bit younger, the entire series is great for any age, although older readers will surely take more away from it. There are some valuable lessons to be learned here, hidden away between cow races and aerial dragon battles. Although the story includes some violent scenes, they are few and far between, and Smith understands who his audience is – so it’s nothing to worry about.

Overall, Bone is a great series that I’d recommend as much to you as I would to any growing funnybook fan, so if you only follow up on one of the comics reviewed here, make sure it’s this one (and read it before you give it away!).

Gumby by Bob Burden and Rick Geary

Everyone knows who Gumby is – probably from that weird claymation series that was on television about 15 years ago. The recent comic series by Burden and Geary maintains the same level of weirdness, but throws in some humor and morals here and there. Obviously, this funnybook is much less ambitious than Bone.

The art is the first thing I noticed about the series – it’s bright, colorful, and silly. Gumby and the other non-human characters have a surreal, rubbery look to them, and I could almost feel their texture through the page. Silly happenings abound: the events are pretty off the wall and sometimes feel a bit disjointed. Gumby has girl problems, bully problems, and some thieving clown problems, but always manages to come out on top.

The age range I’d give this one to would definitely skew younger than Bone. It’s a lighter, more humorous read, so it’s a great way to get a kid away from the television (or the internet) for a bit to develop those reading skills. It’s got that same high-energy, goofy fun as the Animaniacs from back in the day, and it’s much more fun and rewarding than most of the crap that’s on TV after school now (unless your niece loves Judge Joe Brown).


Spiral-Bound is an original graphic novel in black and white by Aaron Renier. The trade dressing is softcover, and it’s done up to look like (surprise) a spiral-bound notebook with doodles on the front cover. The spine and back covers continue the theme. It’s a pretty novel package.

Renier is a decent animal artist, and coincidentally, the entire cast is made up of animals. He finds ways to convey a lot of emotion and reactions through their non-human faces. The characters act like real children. Sometimes annoyingly so – I had flashbacks to times I babysat my own little nieces and nephews. The story takes a bit of time to rev up and get going while introducing the main characters and planting the seeds for future developments, but once it gets going, you don’t want it to stop.

The adventure story present in Spiral-Bound is much more realistic, and with the exception of a sewer-based newspaper publisher, seems like something that could really happen during a lazy summer. The town is a charming and realistic, with interesting ancillary characters and events; the kind of place you’d want to move to. We get swept up along with the characters in the greater plot and taken for a great ride that ends predictably, but it’s still satisfying.

This story fits in the same age range as Gumby, though I’d recommend giving it a read through as well; the town is such a lush and imaginative setting that you could get lost in it. If there were any justice in the world, Spiral-Bound would be one of the most famous children’s books on the market.

The Bakers

Kyle Baker is one of the biggest names in comics. He’s done stuff for Marvel and DC, as well as cartoons for The New Yorker. One of his most recent works, and one that’s entertaining for all ages, is the hardcover, all-ages funnybook collection The Bakers.

The Bakers is a comic strip about Kyle’s family and the silly things that happen when you put a husband, a wife, two kids, and a clever humorist together. It’s very episodic, more along the lines of comic strips, but with even less continuity – the longest stories only last a couple pages. It’s easy to pick up and put down at your leisure, and a thoroughly engaging experience no matter how little you actually wind up reading.

Baker has a way of making the art go just as far for a laugh as any bit of dialogue or narration. The caricatures of his family members are often funny in their own right. While it’s more subdued than his excellent work on titles like Plastic Man or Nat Turner, it’s still got all that Baker charm. The hardcover collection of the comic is colorized; something not present in previous incarnations of the strip. Baker demonstrates a proficiency in coloring that at least matches his delightful linework.

A word of warning: stay away from Kyle’s other two cartoon-strip-like books, The Cartoonist parts I and II; while they’ll probably pop up in some column down the line, they are by no means for kids, even though they have a few of the uncolored Bakers strips in them. Make sure you get the recent hardcover published from Image. It’s a bit pricy (for an unemployed college student), but well worth the money.

Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil

I wanted to be sure to include one superhero title in this list. Not because of any loyalty to Marvel or DC, but because there have been some truly great stories told at these companies, and I think it’s worth fostering a healthy love of well written capes and tights funnybooks in kids. Shazam is being written by Jeff Smith who I’ve gone on about at length above, so I’ll just dive right in.

Shazam features the origin of Captain Marvel, one of the oldest superheroes at DC. The lead character – when he’s not transformed into a Superman-like being, that is – is an 8 year old boy trying to make it on his own in the big city. Smith captures the fears and simple pleasures of a life on the streets pretty well for someone who, I assume, never lived on the streets as an 8 year old. Billy Batson is a loveable little squirt who won’t let anything get him down. When the magic kicks in, the book really takes off, and the sense of sweeping adventure you get early on in Bone is almost duplicated here.

The art is phenomenal. Drawn to be colored (as opposed to Bone, which was colored afterwards), I found myself pouring over each panel, sometimes for half a minute, taking in every minute detail. It is amazing how much Smith can do with 6 2×2 inch boxes per page. The color really sets the mood: from the grittyness of Billy’s home, to the fantastical nature of Captain Marvel and the Rock of Eternity, and even to a playful atmosphere of his first meetings with his sister. This is definitely the most visually rewarding work I’ve listed here, and it’s not too shabby on the story-side of things either.

This is a four part series, and only two of the comics have come out so far. At 6$ per issue of 48 page, no-ads comic (in the business, we call them “prestige format”), it’s a mite expensive. The individual issues might be a good way to draw out the gift-giving aspect of the whole deal (if you’re trying to spoil the little brats), but personally, I’d wait for the trade which will probably be cheaper. Then again the way DC’s trade department works, who knows when that will be. I’ve given you five potential awesome gifts here; don’t expect me to make all your decisions for you.

I’ll see you next time.

-the ill one


  1. Thanks for the rundown on Bone!

    I’ve heard of it in passing (especially after his Shazam series started), but I didn’t know how appropriate it would be as a gift before.

    Comment by Crusader — March 23, 2007 @ 9:04 am

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