October 19, 2012

Review: Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

Explorer The Mystery Boxes Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Available now from Amulet (Abrams)

EXPLORER: THE MYSTERY BOXES is the spiritual successor of the beloved and critically acclaimed FLIGHT anthologies, with a shorter page count and more emphasis on adventure.  The seven short comics within are fantastic introductions to some really great cartoonists and all of the stories have their charms, although there are some standouts.

"Under the Floorboards"  by Emily Carroll

The anthology starts with a deliciously creepy story, wherein a young girl finds a box containing a doll under the floorboards and the doll starts taking over her life.  I'm not the biggest fan of Emily Carroll's art style, but I love how often she lets her images speak for themselves.

"Spring Cleaning" by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier

Married cartoon powerhouse Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier unite for a tale of a young boy who finds a box that many wizards want, as he discovers after listing it for sale on the internet.  It's very funny and made me want to read more stories about Oliver and his neighbor getting into strange sorts of trouble.  The art is clean and bright; the characters are diverse.

"The Keeper's Treasure" by Jason Caffoe

So, this one is a story with a lesson, but it's subtly and hilariously told so that it doesn't feel preachy.  Honestly, it was one of my favorites in the anthology.  "The Keeper's Treasure" is about the meeting of an explorer and a troll who have very different ideas about the worth of things.  (If you read it, pay attention to the troll's expression when he says, "Oh. How interesting."  It's still cracking me up as I write this review.)

"The Butter Thief" by Rad Sechrist

Okay, I usually talk about the art second, but Rad Sechrist's style is adorable - simple but expressive - and I love the mint palette he chose for this story.  "The Butter Thief" might contain the best action sequence of the anthology, as a girl tries to steal butter for a spirit who cursed her.  This one is a very sweet, domestic tale.

"The Soldier's Daughter" by Stuart Livingston with Stephanie Ramirez

"The Soldier's Daughter" was slightly preachy in a way I didn't like.  The story is very pointedly about the evils of war and the poison of hatred.  I did like that it was the girl who had anger issues rather than her brother.  The art is sharp and nicely colored.

"Whatzit" by Johane Matte with Saymone Phanekham

"Whatzit" is about a little spaceman who gets into some trouble when he opens the wrong box.  It's a dynamic story and Saymone Phanekham's colors are a great asset to Johane Matte's art.  I particularly liked the little twist at the end of this story.

"The Escape Option" by Kazu Kibuishi

Kazu Kibuishi's art is beautiful.  He puts bold, distinct characters in front of lush backgrounds.  It's a perfect style for a story warning that humans may not survive many thousands of years more if they don't live a more sustainable lifestyle.  There is, once more, a message, but I liked that it wasn't what it first seemed to be.  The last spread is gorgeous and a fitting end to this anthology.

EXPLORER: THE MYSTERY BOXES will appeal to a wide range of readers.  The authors all interpreted the boxes very differently, so the stories span many genres and provide a little something for everyone.

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