Er, I mean comics.
The prolific cartoonist James Kochalka recently released two more of his little hardcover kids comics, which come across as a cross between a children’s picture book and a traditional comic book.
He continues his cheerfully silly series about “the best little ghost in the world” and his “pet ghost” in Johnny Boo and The Mean Little Boy, the fourth Johnny Boo book.
As with the previous installments of the series, The Mean Little Boy offers a pretty perfect distillation of Kochalka’s greatest attributes as an artist, and while it’s all-ages work with nothing adult or inappropriate in the content, it is a kids comics that adult can enjoy for its interpersonal character dynamics, goofy humor and the accomplished cuteness of Kochalka’s art.
In this volume, Johnny blows off his friend Squiggle, whom Kochalka draws to resemble an apostrophe-shaped marshmallow with emoticon-simple expressions, to play with his friend, Rocky the Rock (who is actually just a rock).
This leaves Squiggle to go off and try to make a new friend of his own. Unfortunately for Squiggle, he floats toward a mean little boy who, mistaking Squiggle for a butterfly, captures him in a butterfly net and puts him in a jar—forever!
Will Johnny come to the rescue before the book’s end? Will Squiggle Power or Boo Power come into play? What role will pee play in this tale? These and other questions are answered in this volume.
Kochalka’s other new book is Dragon Puncher, which is in the same format as the Johnny Boo books, and seems to be set in the same field as the Johnny Boo books, but the style it’s told in, drawn figures and letters over photo backgrounds, more closely resembles that seen on the covers of Kochalka’s grown-up comics, like the Superf*ckers covers. The cast—or at least the real-life models used to portray the cast—are members of the American Elf cast: Kochalka’s young son Eli, their cat Spandy and Kochalka himself.
The story is simplicity itself, and seems to have been “written” by father and son simply playing outside. Dragon Puncher, a cat in a robot battle suit, introduces himself in the first panel: “I am The Dragon Puncher!” His suit is drawn by Kochalka, but his face is a photo of act’s face in the middle of the robot’s head, so it looks as if a cat is wearing the suit.
He’s looking for the dragon, presumably to punch it, when he trips over a little Wookie-looking creature with a little boy’s eyes and nose peeking out through a scuba-mask sized hole in the creature’s face:
This is Spoony-E, a big fan of The Dragon Puncher (“I think I read about you in Monster Wrestler magazine”), and also a “serious fighter,” who fights with his “spoony spoon.”
Despite Dragon Puncher’s protests, Spoony-E follows him in to combat against a dragon, played by James Kochalka:
It’s a whole lot of fun, particularly for fans of Kochalka’s, as his daily American Elf strips allow readers to really get to know not only the artist, but also his family, including Eli and Spandy. So, in a sense, in reading this you’re not only playing with the Kochalka family, but you’re playing with a family you already know pretty well.
Even readers who have never read anything by Kochalka ought to find a lot to like about this book though.
I was quite surprised to find that your typical housecat actually makes for a perfect narrowed-eyed, poker-faced, Clint Eastwood-style badass hero. Something about your typical housecat’s typical blasé, always-unruffled look of boredom and disdain just translates into cool, confident tough guy pretty easily, I guess.