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Originally I had intended to review something else, but this caught my attention. Read Comic In Public Day was on Sunday and rather unexpectedly, comics have entered the political arena in the States. Maryland Senator Nancy King issued a mailout to voters that seems to imply comics harm children’s education. Links for coverage can be found here and here, as well as a comment from King’s Democrat rival Saqib Ali.
Anyway, I chose this book to illustrate why this is an important medium and not shorthand for teen delinquency & illiteracy.
Writers Mike Raicht and Brian Smith have crafted a magical tale of toys coming to life to protect their owner from the malevolent Boogeyman. Charles Paul Wilson III provides the art and it is simply gorgeous. First to the story.
Set during the events of World War II, a young boy plays with his toys and waits for his dad to return from the conflict in Europe. One night he is awoken by the family dog, a small puppy, growling at a door standing ajar in his bedroom. Suddenly his teddy bear Max is flung across the floor by an invisible force and as the pup becomes increasingly anxious, black tendrils stretch out from the darkness of the closet and snatch the boy from his bed. After a moment the toys in the room all come to life. They know the Boogeyman is responsible for this attack on their owner. The Colonel asks for volunteers to accompany him into the Dark, the realm of the Boogeyman. Max the bear, a faceless Indian Princess, a jack-in-the-box Jester, a tin fairy named Harmony and Quackers the duck agree to volunteer for the mission. The boy’s piggybank has to be coaxed by the Colonel into joining the group also, as well as the eager pup Scout (whose presence the toys barely tolerate as he is not one of them). Together they step through the closet door, which shuts firmly behind them.
On the other side of the door, in the Dark itself, the toys find themselves transformed into living, breathing beings, stranded in a world filled with hostile subjects of the Boogeyman’s. The Colonel leads them in an assault against a waiting army of soldiers from different periods of history and they succeed in forcing their opponents to retreat. A group that numbers a giant bear, a mad axe-wielding Jester and an Indian Princess fed up to the teeth with being rescued the entire time, is a force to be reckoned with. Seeing this the Boogeyman attempts a different tactic. The heroes travel onward to the strange town of Hopskotch, not realizing that there is a traitor among them, slowly wearing down their resolve.
Raicht and Smith have crafted an endearing fable that at first glance resembles the Toy Story series, but proves to be a much darker tale. The heroes suffer loss and death shortly after becoming ‘real’ and the Boogeyman is a terrifying symbol of innocence corrupted made manifest. The toys themselves also develop alarming character traits when they cross over into the Dark. Max in particular is transformed from a cuddly teddy into a savage beast. Gruff and impatient, his desperate need to rescue his owner whom he has been with the longest proves to be a weakness that the villains easily exploit. The noble Colonel can easily be viewed as a symbol for the boy’s missing father, whose stoic bravery in the face of conflict represents a child’s understanding of the realities of war. Then there is Percy the pig(gybank) who is counting down the days till his owner smashes his body to recover the money he has been saving. In the Dark Percy is a real pig and his intelligence exposes him to doubts about the rescue they are attempting. My favourite of the bunch is the formerly faceless Princess of course, with the sinister Jester a close second, both interesting inversions of their toylike forms.
The art is wonderful. The sepia colourings throughout lend a nostalgic tone to the real world scenes. However, it is the splash-page revelation of the toys’ transformation, leaping into battle against impossible odds with limbs hacked at and torsos stabbed, that proves to be an astonishing moment. Wilson’s art transforms this book, like its toys heroes, into something strange and wonderful.
I’d read this in public every day!