Burn this post after you read it.

*LOL Dept (or: a long hype’s journey into night):

FIRST - We get a gigantic ‘KING’ symbol flashing on a screen. Rumors are running wild!

NEXT - Oh my! Stephen King’s The Dark Tower! And what a carefully-worded press release!

THEN - Joe Q. explains how King is sort of writing the book, more or less, give or take a few levels of comics bureaucracy, but he’ll have the final say over what’s published.

NOW - From Comicon’s coverage of Wizard World Texas comes this delicious tidbit from Marvel Editor Nick Lowe (unless, as we're warned, the reporter was forced to paraphrase):

Stephen King has been to the office a few times, but the comic is in its early stages right now and we're not sure how involved he will be in the miniseries.”

So basically, as of now, there’s less Stephen King in this series then there’s Alan Moore in all those Avatar books. I hope it turns out that Joe Q. is providing the dialogue so I can relive the pleasure I experienced from reading that one issue of NYX I bought.

I’m telling you, folks - ‘duck wafer.’

Spiral-Bound (Top Secret Summer)

It’s always a bit of a challenge for me to review kids’ books; I can’t really trust my adult perceptions of the sort of thing I’d have enjoyed back when I was twelve or so. The temptation toward the retroactive shoring up of good taste is powerful - and yet, I still remember all of those awful comics I was reading back in the day. You can’t erase the likes of Deathmate from your psyche easily, as much as you’d love to replace it with something better. “Oh yes, I had wonderful taste all along!”

But I can estimate; I am fairly certain that my head would have exploded with joy had The Incredibles opened back in 1993 (and I’m talking character and tone, setting aside the obvious visual advances inherent), just as I’m pretty sure I’d have liked Spiral-Bound, a perfectly nice graphic novel from Top Shelf, squarely aimed at younger readers, written and drawn by newcomer Aaron Renier. It’s a lovely-looking thing, enough so that I suppose the adult reader might take some pleasure out of it, though they’ll have to make do with the clinging notion that they’re not at all among the book’s target audience.

Taking place in a detailed town of anthropomorphic beasts, the plot follows two protagonists. There’s chubby, awkward Turnip, a young elephant who’s got a big crush on a local mouse named Viola (hey, don’t go getting thoughts about the logical implications of such a pursuit, Mr./Ms. Not Part of the Target Audience - the animal appearance of these characters is largely an instrument to externalize their personal traits; thus, elephants = big and clumsy). He’s also a fantastically talented sculptor, though he’s usually crippled by nerves and anxiety. He’s enrolled at a summer sculpting camp, along with his enthusiastic dog friend Stucky, and he’s taught by Ms. Skrimshaw, a whale floating around in a big tank of water, mounted atop a motorized vehicle. Ms. Skrimshaw wants to hold the camp’s big concluding sculpture garden display by the town’s lake, though her plan isn’t going over well with the town’s officials - almost all of the adults in town believe the lake to be stalked by a vicious monster, and they’re more than pleased to pass their fears down to their children.

Connected to all of this is protagonist #2, Ana, an enthusiastic zinester bunny whose small-press exploits have just scored her a Hogwarts-style invitation to a secret society of gifted folks - the local newspaper! Except, in the peculiar internal logic of this book’s world, the local newspaper is run literally underground, all stories are written anonymously, and there’s a massive, secret system of underground tram tunnels that reporters can use to gain instant access to nearly any private locale in town (so it’s basically like the paper where I used to work). Naturally, Ana gets a cub assignment, and naturally she stumbles into the secret surrounding the lake, and naturally her path crosses with that of Turnip, though frankly Ana is a lot more fun of a character and her storyline is a lot more interesting. And in the end kids save the day and the morals come fast and furious (though never didactically, to the book’s credit), with all of your favorites present: ‘trust your friends,’ ‘believe in yourself,’ ‘angry mobs are a bad idea,’ ‘try to gather at least a modicum of facts instead of surrendering to superstition,’ and ‘anything you do is ok so long as it’s in the name of art.’

Ah, well, that last one isn’t stated explicitly; I don’t think it’s even intentional. But it’s certainly present, since over and over is ‘art’ (whether its reporting or sculpting or whatever) used to excuse all sorts of stuff. Ana in particular racks up some nice property damage in her adventures. And sure, it’s all to teach the mean old ignorant adults a lesson, but I was thinking “friendship isn’t gonna rebuild all those bookshelves, Carrot Flower.” I know, I know - I’m not the audience for this. Still, once we get to the end and we meet a certain character who’s really been causing a lot of trouble with his self-absorbed ways, he basically gets off scot-free since he creates nice things. And there’s even a scene with someone in an angry mob demanding he apologize, but on the next page it’s immediately ignored - there’s not even a response. I’d like to imagine that even as a kid I’d recognize that as sort of a cheat, but then again, see my comments on retroactive self-inflation from earlier.

Still, quibbles with the book’s lessons aside, this is some fun work. If taken on the merits of individual scenes, it’s sometimes excellent; an early concert sequence at an all-ages club flawlessly captures the unique mix of older music fans, band supporters, and hip(ish) high school kids (which I presume is the age of our heroes - it’s kind of tough to gauge) who tend to mix at such venues. The characters are fun and vivid, and occasionally genuinely inspired (the town’s mob-leading grump is also Turnip’s dad, who’s quite a different person when just sitting around at home). The dialogue is often great, carefully teasing out the relationships between the characters (I loved how Stucky would occasionally fish for compliments from Turnip) and never sounding less than organic. Really, there’s a lot of interesting growths springing up from this book’s world, like how all of the fish ride around in vehicles similar to Ms. Skrimshaw’s; there’s even consistency - when a stupid costume manages to improbably fool a bunch of characters in one scene, it works just as well in the next.

And Renier’s art is frankly impeccable; character art is cute and bouncy, and there’s a lot of loving detail poured into some crowded street scenes, each species carefully delineated, with an eye for detail (the fish-vehicles even have working headlights!) and a good sense of visual comedy (as much as I adored the little turtle making a bootleg at one of the book’s concerts, my favorite sight gag has to be how one of the kids at sculpture camp is a snake - think about it). As visual entertainment the book is unfailing, and I wonder if some adult readers might not be roped in by the lure of sheer eye candy, and persuaded to stay by the pleasant enough story. Even the book’s design, with its rounded edges and faux-notebook style, is friendly and welcoming, urging you to lazily leaf through and maybe take it home.

So there it is. Nice book for kids. I don’t know how much fun it’ll be for adults, though I’d say I mostly enjoyed myself. It’s a treat for the eyes, and the characters are fun, and they get to run around in an appealing little world, with an appealing recurrent motif of keeping and uncovering (top) secrets; I can feel my inner child responding to that. It’s very light, very friendly, and (little issues of mine aside) generally wholesome. Take from that what you will.