Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sardine in Outer Space - Out of This Wo-Roald

One of things that I most admire about Roald Dahl's children's fiction is his ability to treat his young readers as people, not as delicate flowers. As he described his work, he was "conspiring with children against adults." I love that aspect of his work, and it's that same aspect that comes through in the excellent collection of short comic book stories by Emmanuel Guibert (story) and Joann Sfar (art), Sardine in Outer Space, collected (and translated from the original French) by First Second Books. It is not hard to imagine "Matilda in Outer Space" being all that different than this collection.

The setup is as follows - Sardine is a litle girl pirate who travels the galaxy with her uncle Yellow Shoulder, who is a pirate captain. They raom around space rescuing rebellious children who are forced to obey evil Supermuscleman, the chief executive dictator of the universe (who has an evil Mad Scientist sidekick named Doc Krok). Supermuscleman and Doc Krok spend most of the comic trying to capture them/kill them.

And look what Supermuscleman WEARS for most of the stories (twelve short stories in total)!!!

Yes, he's wearing Captain Marvel tights, basically!! You don't GET much cooler than that, my friends!

Sfar's art also harkens back to Dahl's stories, as Sfar's style is one I would describe as "crude realism," and Dahl, speaking about his work, described his style as "I find that the only way to make my characters really interesting to children is to exaggerate all their good or bad qualities, and so if a person is nasty or bad or cruel, you make them very nasty, very bad, very cruel. If they are ugly, you make them extremely ugly. That, I think, is fun and makes an impact." That is what goes on in Sardine, and not just the art, but the stories as well. For instance, there is a twisted story where Supermuscleman and Doc Krok disguise themselves as Ice Cream shop workers, to make a disgusting confection for Sardine and her best friend (and fellow young pirate) Little Louie. In the story, the amount of gross toppings they use is waaaaaaay over the top. Dahl would approve.

Each of the stories revolves around the basic concept of Supermuscleman and Doc Krok coming up with some plan to capture/kill them, and Sardine and her uncle must somehow thwart it, usually by some clever trick, but often, just by a sheer unwillingness to play fair, as pirates are prone to do. There are very few morals in these stories (although, in a particularly nice twist, Captain Yellow Shoulder seems to have as many rules as you can imagine, so the disobedient children run off to join a pirate...who's quite STRICT!), as they exist just to entertain kids, and Guibert and Sfar do a fine job of it.

There are also a number of clever in-jokes that I presume the target audience (which is kids from 6 years old to about 11 years old) would be unlikely to catch, like a VERY clever one involving a group of clouds who embody the Three Musketeers. Or when Sardine and Louie get wrapped up in a scary video game (the video game is of a typical schoolday for a kid, which, of course, is bizarre to these space pirate children - its title? No-Child-Left-Behind-School-II). Those are just the jokes that go over kid's heads. Most of the jokes are clear, obvious - and most important, funny.

So, if a fun, gag-filled story with interesting art that conspires with kids rather than talks down to them sounds like a good book to you, then I would recommend Sardines in Outer Space, from First Second Books (who were so kind as to provide this review copy).

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