Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Growing Up Enchanted #1

Fantasy February and Magical March!

Growing Up Enchanted #1

Why don’t I get enchanted with this kid’s book?

"The Baby Sorceress, Part 1”

Story and Art – Jack Briglio & Alex Szewezuk

July 2002

Growing Up Enchanted came to me by way of a bundle pack. Flipping through a few pages I had hoped for a fun, all-ages book that everyone could enjoy. Certainly nothing looked amiss in the art, which is done by Alex Szewezuk. There is a clean, coloring book feel to most of it which reminds me a bit of Jeff Smith’s Bone books. So at first glance, it was all good.

I started my first read through and found that the story had one glaring problem: the plot. Growing Up Enchanted developed out of out of Jack Briglio’s college script-writing class assignment as a scene between two characters. Jack originally had Olianna and her father in a modern-day poolhall and put them through their paces.

He must have gotten a high grade on it, because he and Szewezuk adapted it for a fantasy comic book anthology in 1997. The father and daughter got a second issue story and then…well, then the author admits to kind of shelving the entire thing after several false starts at a series.

And along comes 2002, five years later, and he and artist Szewezuk have finally decided to make a go of an ongoing series with these two characters and an added assortment of family, friends and adventures. The book went on to span seven issues, enough for two trades.

Briglio went on to other projects, including work on DC’s Scooby-Doo books and the Legion cartoon series tie-in comic, so I guess he made out okay. Szewezuk changed his (hers?) name to Serra and snuck into one issue of the Teen Titans Go! Comic, which is a shame. Alex has talent and this book should not have been their crowning achievement.

I say that because, although I like the art and tend to go way less hard on children-friendly titles, there is something about this book that annoys me. I think the primary thing is the rambling storytelling style that spends an inordinate amount of time on things it hopes are “cute.” Indeed they may be sometimes, but for a lot of this I feel it is pages wasted. And the story arc is not very clean. As an audience member I should know where the next issue would likely take me, however there is so much time spent on inane story details that the whole comes off as unfocused. Sure, character-building is in the details. I agree with that, but you also have to know when to turn that spigot off. There’s bits here that would work or work better if they were carved down, and that’s where the book’s lack of editor credit really feels evident.

I’ll let you dip your toes into this to see what I mean, but try not to get lost. There are 32 pages in this first issue, which is 12 more than a regular comic book needs to tell a story twice the size of what we have going on here…

We begin with a two-and-a-half page horse ride through the forest by these three bumbling knights. They’ve been out dragonslaying, failing miserably at it and one of them, Copper, is injured. They are headed to tell their boss Panas about their failure and blame it all on Copper, who is so concussed that he falls out of his saddle.

The other two dicks just let him bounce along the roadway, which part of me is thinking is a way to kill the poor guy if they aren’t careful.

Don’t worry about the dragon-head at the bottom, it is a mask that Ollie’s little brother Anto has put on the dog. Here the pair are playing dragon and knight in a scene I wouldn’t mind had it occurred two pages earlier.

That’s all fine, but then we have a full page of Anto seeing the knights coming up the road and then running for the front door of his house…

And I will spoil this much for you, it takes another three pages for the knights to actually enter the house. First we have Anto’s mother bug him to close the door, which he has the dog (named Dog) do…

…then we have the mother scream for the husband to get the door, which he can’t because he’s upstairs asleep…

…then we have the little boy tackle his old man, so we can have a reason for his older sister to use magic (which, surprise-surprise, she’s forbidden to use due to need for a conflict in the story) to open the door.

We are now nine pages in and I don’t have a real clue what the book will be about. I mean, yes I kind of do, but I’m hopeful it won’t be about cute pictures of adorable little kids being silly around adults when the book isn’t being unnecessarily cruel to people in need of medical attention.

And here we get an introduction to Olianna, who is in trouble for using magic…

…and magic in this universe stinks like poop, which we get these extended pages showing just that fact so that the reader is sure to “get it”: First the dog sniffs her…

…and runs off, then her mother gives her the once over…

…and then the next page of the knights trying to figure out where the smell came from, prime suspect Anto. Remember when all of these characters had a sense of purpose before we got so far off the rails that they are smelling kid’s cracks? I don’t. I think it had something to do with dragons and head injuries, although at this moment the only head that is hurting appears to be mine. 

And that would be because now we have an extended sequence where we have to learn that the dog’s name is Dog. 

I’m fading fast, Crapboxers. Before we get much further though, the tale appears to take up the idea of having a plot again, as the three knights tell the tale of how Copper got injured in the dragon attack. 

Basically, we’ve known who these three are bumbling idiots are from the moment they first showed up, which is to say the comic relief. However given everyone else in the book, we didn’t know they would be par for the course. And to ensure once again we realize that these three ARE the comic relief, we get this graphic showing the start of their foraging for the dragon’s lair, and they are walking right past it.

A page more of them being complete idiots so we are SURE we understand their part in the story, they are found BY the dragon, which should really tell you all you need to know in ONE panel. We go hunting dragons and the dragon sneaks up BEHIND us. 

Subtlety in this book means hitting the reader over the head with the same information three or four different ways at once and then spelling it out for them in case they didn’t catch it.

And speaking of catching it, as if this story is just plain boring the readers, the artist decides to throw in a full row of distractions among the kids because…

…help me out here? Why? Why do we need this? Any of this. Just tell the story. All these asides are why the book is padded out to 32 pages. And as much as I like the artist and their wonderful two page spread the follows showing the group in full retreat and the super kind-faced dragons in pursuit, I think the book really needs a few less pages. Save those extra panels for things that work, like this bit here with Copper and a dragon…

This is how Copper cracked his cranium, by the way. It also is a clever bit that occurs much too late in the book. I care more for this story than for everything that has gone on with the growing up enchanted chick, Ollie whatever-her-name-is. 

But even this story has its limits as it takes two more pages to get that the moronic trio escaped. There is a joke at the end of this that is a good payoff, but happens far too late to be worth the struggle to get to. Shame about the art being so good too, because I kept giving this book second chances it hadn’t rightly earned. Because as soon as I give it a pardon…

…we turn from this bit about Oli wanting to go with her Dad…

…to this piece of the whole family fighting about who gets to do what that is so embarrassing the side characters don’t even want to be in the scenes either.

Then we suffer through breakfast the next morning and her brother being a little shit and Father Panas riding her to school on his horse and a two-page spread of the schoolyard full of young kids and then him sending her to play with one of the neighborhood kids and by the time we are done we’ve burned six more pages just to get to this…

…a wordless standoff with some big punk kid before school starts on the first day.

That…wasn’t enjoyable. Too much getting in the way of a clear story and so much of it distractions that did little to really build the characters. If brevity is the soul of wit, then Growing up Enchanted has very little of both. If you feel I’m wrong on this one, then be my guest and pick up the two trades.

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