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I think I made a point, long ago in a review far far away, that children are sometimes the forgotten readers of comic books, and thus, books directed and geared toward them sometimes seem scarce in this world of adult readership. What are we supposed to give the next generation to read? How do we spread our crack-like addiction to the young and impressionable readers out there? We find books for them I assume.

I started snooping around the ‘Net, and I actually managed to find several examples of books aimed directly at kids, and none of them were marked Marvel Age. NBM Publishing has an entire collection of classic children’s’ tales, and by such A-List talent as P. Craig Russell (Sandman, Ring of the Nibelung) and the great Will Eisner. In fact, Eisner’s Sundiata is the subject of this review.

But first, allow a humble comic reviewer one pure fanboy moment…

It’s Will-Frickin’-Eisner! The Spirit! Contract With God! WOOOOOO!

And now back to that review…

Sundiata is a myth from African folklore passed down through the oral tradition of the people of Mali. It is the tale of an evil conqueror called Sumanguru, who makes a pact with a being of great evil for the powers of a god and the ability to conquer and rule the lands surrounding him. After killing all that oppose him, one boy named Sundiata rises to challenge the tyrant and lead his people to victory.

To begin with, we must understand that this book is actually meant to be read primarily by younger readers. My appropriate age guess being between 6 and 9 years old, some concessions have to be made to the reading level of the kids in question. Due to this, Sundiata reads very easily and very simply, leaving out anything too complex for the kids to understand. Eisner even takes battlefield tactics and manages to make it understandable to a kindergartener (or rather, my approximation of what a kindergartener is thinking), which is no small feat. While this is great for the kiddies, it does diminish the read for the older audience, but the way that Eisner sets up the narrative you can almost imagine reading this aloud to your child at bedtime. It’s meant to be a comic book story to give to your children.

But the myth really isn’t the focus for the adult comic buyers who don’t have kids. The artwork by probably the most legendary living American comic book artist is the real reason the non-parents will buy this book, because it can double as an art book. Eisner’s artwork isn’t as revolutionary here as it was in The Spirit, but you really see an artist who is incredibly comfortable with his style, and experienced in the art of panel placement. Eisner once again knows who his audience is with this comic, and keeps the artwork easy to follow, using the basic left-to-right, top-to-bottom style in the way he places the panels. This creates a very comfortable pace for the reader, and while experienced comic book readers recognize this as being the standard style for portraying graphic stories, it is also the best way to introduce the very young reader to the sometimes-difficult task of reading a comic book.

Eisner also takes his character work and tailors it to the youngsters; he makes Sumanguru an overly exaggerated caricature of evil, while Sundiata is clearly cast as the hero of the piece. This iconic representation style helps the younger child to tell the hero more readily from the villain, making the story even more accessible.

And for the older audience, you still get to see a master artist at work, Eisner employs spectacular line work, different angle and perspective shots, out of panel work, great color sense that employs mostly oranges, browns and blacks to convey the feeling of Africa, not to mention the various faded and mottled coloring of the people themselves. This is a gorgeous book, because it’s Will Eisner’s book.

This review may seem rather short, and it is for two reasons: the first being that the comic book itself is rather short. Topping out at 32 pages, Sundiata truly is and only is the illustrated myth. Perhaps it shortness is yet another nod to the youngsters, taking into account their shorter attention spans. The second is that this is a Will Eisner book. I don’t need to really review him, because he’s the man that brought so much to the comic book industry they named an award after him. If you don’t have at least one Will Eisner graphic novel(la) in your collection, drop what you’re doing, slam your head into a wall, and when you come to, go buy one!

For only $7.95 you can get Sundiata from NBM Publishing, and if you want more, Eisner is a proflific creator, and apparently one of the few that recognize that the future generation is in need of some comics specifically designed for them. Keep this format that we all love alive by sharing stories like these with your kids. They’ll thank you once they get past that pesky teenager stage.

Sundiata: A Legend of Africa

Robert Sparling

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