of Light, City of Dark
One of the best things about comics is that
it doesn’t target audiences the way that most media
seems to these days. Comic books have the ability to be
written for a specific age group or demographic and still
find a way to be published. This is very much opposite of
the movie and television industries, where the goal is to
appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of viewers, causing
many films to be edited to the point where their content
can be considered PG-13 and thus, more accessible to more
do not have to do that, though many do. Books are more and
more written for one age group or another: older, younger
and what have you. Entire lines like Marvel Age have been
established in order to cater to the youth market, and lines
like Vertigo have been adult-oriented since their creation.
the mainstream is powerful and accessible to most readers,
even comics in the general continuity of all the big companies
have a tendency to gravitate to one side or the other of
the age gap, some even settling into an in-between place
the way Runaways
point being that we can always find a way to differentiate
between what comics are good for kids and which are not.
I won’t be giving a copy of Preacher to any
toddlers anytime soon. And yet, we really have few writers
dedicated to the writing of children’s material. Jill
Thompson springs to mind, as does Mark Crilley, but there
are few writers in comics that create for children at anything
approaching a prolific pace.
as I went searching for a children’s graphic novel
to prove correct my first few paragraphs, I came across
a “comic-book novel” by one of young adult literature’s
more famous names: Avi. You might remember him from The
Man Who Was Poe or Midnight Magic, or a few
dozen others, as Avi is one of today’s better writers
for children. Along with illustrator Brian Floca, Avi brings
to life the very unusual story of New York City’s
secret history and its even more secret guardians.
“To begin with, there were the KURBS,”
is the first line of Avi’s story, introducing the
reader to the real owners of Manhattan: the Kurbs. What
the Kurbs are and what they want are things of mystery,
but what is known is that long ago, when mankind first came
to this island, they made pact with these creatures of dark
power. Mankind would be allowed to live and build on the
island but they must, each year, enact a ritual acknowledging
the power the Kurbs still possessed over the island of Manhattan.
Each year, one designated person shall find the hidden power
of the Kurbs and return it to them at a designated place.
Failure to do this will cause the Kurbs to destroy Manhattan,
freezing it and killing all who live upon it.
Carlos Jaurez was just walking home from
school one day when he came across a subway token. Wrenching
it free from a militant pigeon, Carlos takes it home and
soon discovers it is no ordinary coin. Uptown, Sarah Stubbs
is helping her father run their candy shop as her father’s
scary friend, Mr. Underton, makes yet another stop in to
collect money from Mr. Stubbs. This is fine until Mr. Underton
decides he needs to borrow Sarah in order to find something
of great and horrible value. And down in the bowels of Grand
Central station, a lone woman stirs, searching to find the
power of the Kurbs, in order to return it and save the city.
All of these people will collide as they search for the
Power, some innocently and some with only the most evil
of ends in mind, all in the City that never sleeps.
of what marks this as clearly a book meant for children
is the straightforward structure that Avi imposes on the
story; he quickly eliminates the back story of the Kurbs,
and then gives the histories of several characters, in narrative
form, before beginning the story itself. In a book aimed
at adults, this would be serviceable but dull writing. In
a children’s book targeting the younger readers, this
is a good idea because it allows the story to move quickly
and provides the foundation for the story.
is able to describe some rather abstract concepts very rapidly
without giving too much detail while Floca’s depictions
of the Kurbs as amorphous shadows flows well with Avi’s
sparse description of the monsters. He also manages to flesh
out the characters of Mr. Stubbs and Mr. Underton very early,
giving the reader a chance to focus on the two main protagonists,
Carlos and Sarah. Children readers more readily focus onto
the character closest to their ages, which Avi understands,
getting these other characters done early so that the children’s
attention spans will be tied to his child heroes.
straightforward plot structure is somewhat harder on the
adult reader. The adult will be able to guess at many things
coming in through the front door of the plot, though Avi
does have some surprises in the story that are not easily
is Floca’s artwork. He uses ink pen, playing with
shadows and crosshatching to get his varying textures. He
also draws freehand, not using a ruler as much of his straight-line
work and architectural appears shaky on close inspection.
I think this may be deliberate, because the soft lines and
the lack of harsh corners give the narrative a dream-like
and child-like quality that seems to echo the fact that
this is indeed a children’s book, while also adding
to the fantasy elements on the piece. His facial work could
use some definition, but his artistic style is one of minimalism,
so it fits and is certainly at the complexity level a child
this is a well put together children’s comic. Will
you enjoy it as an adult reader? Probably not, as its simple
rhythms and plot beats are clearly not meant for you, but
it is certainly something one could buy for the middle reader
in your household. It’s an enjoyable story about family,
fantasy, ingenuity, and responsibility and is a welcome
addition to my comic book shelf.
Of Light, City Of Dark