By Allison Eckel
In December, I started this occasional series on E-rated, or "all-ages", comics and graphic novels. I focus on these books because I am a mom of two comics-reading kids, but also because I enjoy these stories as well. This week, I share with you two graphic novels that are on the surface somewhat similar, but deep down, very different.
Kizoic’s new original graphic novel Scouts: Drafted – created by Kizoic COO and co-founder Brent E. Erwin and written by Mark Finn with art by Scott Ball – goes on sale this month. I picked up a promo copy based on the great artwork and Kizoic’s commitment to kid-friendly comics. Plus, as a scout leader myself, I expected the comic to share a connection with scouting hi-jinks. That’s not exactly what I found.
Here’s the pitch from the publisher’s website: “What do you do when your parents sign you up as a member of the most unlucky ‘Shrub Scout’ troop on the planet? Well, if you’re Mike Manly you do everything you can to get out! As Mike quickly discovers the only way out of the ‘Weasel Troop’ is to earn all of the merit badges needed to graduate… wish Mike good luck cause [sic] he’s gonna need it!”
Ok, cool middle-grader whose parents are forcing him to do something “educational” he doesn’t want to do is solid story telling fodder. But the publisher alienated me by casting scouting as wimpy and something to be avoided at all costs. Words for the scouts such as “unlucky,” “shrub,” and “weasel” ensure that the reader will side with the “manly” protagonist in his distaste for scouting. Strike one.
When we meet his new troop, we find a cadre of two-dimensional also-rans: the fat stupid kid, the tech-addicted brainy kid with glasses, and the skinny who is allergic to everything. The only original kid is the one lost in his own military fantasies. Too bad all of his references are too old for the age of the target reader. Strike two.
The scout leader never shows and instead phones in all of his instructions. This could be an amusing mechanism for keeping adults out of the book, but the situations are inappropriate. An unseen authority figure sends five minors into the woods with no training or supervision to identify plants. Yep, the fat stupid kid eats a berry. That’s not really a spoiler ʹcause you saw it coming a mile away. I understand the reasons for removing the adult from the story; I don’t understand making that adult criminally negligent and asking us to laugh about it. Strike three.
Scouts: Drafted is unforgivably shallow and therefore not worth my financial investment. Please give Scott Ball a more worthy project because I want to see more from this artist.
Kizoic, consider Knights of the Lunch Table (Scholastic), which is a graphic novel worthy of my money.
Writer/artist Frank Cammuso brings us tales of Arty King (nicknamed Wart, natch) who is the new kid at Camelot Middle School. At this point, you are correct if you guessed that the whole book is filled with King Arthur/Camelot references. They are many and well-woven throughout Arty King’s world.
The first book in this series is The Dodgeball Chronicles, published back in 2008, and is available in print as well as digital through Scholastic’s digital book app for iOS and PC (Android coming soon). This story covers many events of the classic The Sword in the Stone while introducing our cast of original characters, both benign and evil.
Knights of the Lunch Table beats Scouts for value because Knights is a multi-layered story right out of the gate. I know that my kids will return to it as they learn more about Arthurian legend, or even as they encounter their own bullies in school. All I see in Scouts is a disrespectful kid surrounded by flat characters and negligent adults. If that was the creator’s reality, then he has my pity – but not my money.
Editor's note: Read Rated E for Excellent, Part 1: Snarked! and Cow Boy