While monthly sales of periodical comic books may always seem to be up for debate and criticism from various sources online, one area of the industry where growth appears to be unquestioned involves graphic novels. Able to deliver more pages per dollar as well as being sold by many venues outside the “direct market” such as bookstores or even some other retailers, it has almost become a side industry within the realm of comics. Even Publisher’s Weekly has cited that sales for graphic novels were up 22% last year, despite the “big two” (Marvel and DC Comics) hardly being in as strict control of the market as they are with monthly comic books. Random House has become one of many major publishers who have since developed a graphic novel wing, with “Comics Squad” being one of many titles they produce for younger readers. Intended as an anthology series highlighting some of the top creators currently involved in the young adult graphic novel market today in the style of Sunday newspaper strips, two volumes have been released so far. The latest is “Comics Squad: Lunch”, which goes on sale at bookstores and other venues online and off today (January 26).
Packed within over 130 pages are seven different comic tales centered around the theme highlighted in the title – lunch. The first is “A Crazy Little Thing Called Lunch” by Cece Bell (“El Deafo”) about a little girl named Ellie whose zeal towards playing everything safe comes into conflict with trying new snacks and getting closer to a cute boy during the aforementioned period. The second is “Snoopy in…Lunchtime Beagle” produced by the Charles M. Schultz Studio which involves Snoopy trying his paws at a gig as cafeteria monitor for the “Head Beagle”. The Charlie Brown world certainly is a strange one where a dog is allowed such lofty positions! Next is “Babymouse: Lunchtime Champion” by the sibling duo of Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (who make up two thirds of this tome’s editing team), who bring their “Babymouse” character to the lunchroom where inspiration by the legend of Robin Hood causes her to challenge some cafeteria bullies to a game of dodge-ball. After that is “The Case of the Missing Science Project” by Jason Shiga which offers an ambitious interactive element as readers try to help Little Jimmy, “kid detective”, solve a mystery which involves a stolen time machine! Fifth on the docket is “Pikput & Cullen in…Worst Day Ever” by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon in which the two titular characters get stuck doing chores in the lunchroom after an incident and discover there’s more to it than sweeping. Jeffery Brown’s “Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: Cave Soup” introduces a new franchise for the “Jedi Academy” creator in which the titular cave kids get tricked into gathering the day’s lunch by their bratty cave teenage siblings. The penultimate strip is “Lunch Bomb” by Nathan Hale, creator of the “Hazardous Tales” series in which he uses his serial characters to tell a true story about a plucky ship crew in WWII who managed to down an enemy sub using a most unusual weapon. Lastly is “Lunch Girl and the Ominous Origin” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (who also co-edited this collection) which tells a tale from the childhood of his “Lunch Lady” graphic novel series heroine when she was encouraged by her lunch ladies to keep a stiff upper lip with a bully. Throughout the series are page breaks and even some mock comic book ads by the Holms and Krosoczka with Babymouse, Lunch Lady, and even the Holms’ “Squish” offering activities or tips, or just side gags.
Despite only being able to use the colors black, white, gray, and yellow, all of these comics depict different styles in vibrant ways. As with any anthology, which stories are the best may depend on taste and audience, but all of them are lighthearted, imaginative, and offer positive values and fun characters. One story may offer a world of normal kids and another a world of anthropomorphic animals (and aliens) together in a school and it all flows like gravy. This is intended for readers aged 7-10 and one can easily imagine a kid that age quickly being engrossed and delighted by this book. “Lunch Bomb” may skew the oldest of that range, as it may be too complicated for some readers under 9 or 10, but it also is arguably the best strip of the collection. “The Case of the Missing Science Project” uses arrows to aid the reader in putting the story together at their own whim, but it may turn out to be confusing for some readers considering the size of the book and all of the odd arrow angles. Some of the page breaks turn out funnier than one or two of the strips, especially a mock ad for a hypnotizing gizmo. Most of the comics offer an educational element, either in values or history, with “Lunch Bomb” and “Cave Soup” skewing the most so. The Peanuts strip may be a tad predictable for anyone familiar with the franchise’s tropes. However, all of these stories are unique and a joy to read for all ages, with plenty of facts about the creators in the back.
At $7.99, this is a tremendous bargain considering the comic pages within. People looking for a great, yet “safe” graphic novel to offer to their young ones, or enjoy themselves for some quick humor, should grab this item at their nearest bookstore or online retailer. After all, that price-tag is a lot cheaper than the average lunch in Manhattan for anyone of any age.