Friday, May 23, 2014

Recommended Reading for 5/23: The Star Wars Comics of Jeffrey Brown

Things this week have been hectic, and I'm running a bit behind, as well as prepping for another exciting weekend at Dewey's for our annual back issue clearance sale (which you should all come and check out) and planning to get to Days of Future Past tonight so I can review it over the weekend, so I'm going to write up something short and sweet.

Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown had a reputation for writing stories of coming of age and superhero parodies. And then a couple years ago he put out a book of cartoons inspired by fatherhood. Only instead of just illustrating himself and his son, he went to a galaxy far, far away and created a series of one panel comics and some short strips featuring Darth Vader and a pint sized Luke Skywalker doing father/son activities under the title Darth Vader and Son. The strips vary from the heartwarming to the hilarious, with scenes of Vader and Luke playing games together to Vader trying to use the Jedi mind trick to convince Luke not to buy a Jar Jar Binks toy. The book is liberally sprinkled with quotes from the movies, and Brown's beautifully detailed backgrounds feature plenty of character cameos and Easter Eggs for the die-hard Star Wars fan. But it's the heart the Brown brought the project that made it a major hit. I'm being brief and general about the books simply because trying to explain a joke is probably the least funny thing you can do, and so many of the strips are great self contained jokes. I'm not a parent, but I am an uncle and a godfather, and if you've ever spent time with a little kid, Brown catches the flavor of some of those interactions perfectly, and does it in a way that fits seamlessly with the world that he is using.

Brown's follow-up naturally has Vader with Luke's twin sister. Vader's Little Princess is a slightly different book, as it takes Leia from her childhood into her teen years. While some of the strips are similar in tone to Darth Vader and Son, the book features a rebellious (yes, the italics are pointing out a particularly bad pun) teen Leia pushing the boundaries, going out in her slave costume, hanging out with a boy Vader doesn't approve of (a young rogue named Solo), and crashing Dad's big vehicle (a Death Star). While there feels like there's more of a through line in this volume, as Leia grows up, each page or strip still stands alone on its own and features the same elements that made the first a hit.

Last year's Star Wars book from Brown was a different thing entirely. I haven't read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid or My Dumb Diary series, these incredibly popular series that mix journal entries, spot illustration and comics to tell the stories of kids, but it seems Brown took a page from those books and his new book was a narrative, featuring Padawan Roan Novachez. Roan really wanted to get into pilot school like his big brother, but is turned down and instead sent off to the Jedi Academy. The school isn't anything like he expected, but Roan's school year is full of adventure, friendship, some problems, and in the end more than a little success.

Roan is an endearing protagonist, a good kid who really tries hard and even when he fails he dusts himself off and tries again. The book is a cute slice of school life in the Star Wars universe, and as Yoda says he is seven hundred years old, it takes place in uncharted territory of the timeline and could be EU canon. Brown mixes the Star Wars elements, using various different species and craft movie fans would recognize, while also including some great EU references like ysalamri, the force repelling lizards. But while using these fantastic elements, he never loses sight that what he's telling is a story about a kid growing up. Roan experiences all sorts of things that we do in the real world, like making new friends, his first crush, bullies, fear of the big test, and more.

All of Brown's books are charming to the extreme, and are perfect for reading with little ones. I write this in time for those of you who haven't read them to catch up before July, when both the second volume of Roan's adventures, Return of the Padawan, and the new picture book from Brown, Good Night Darth Vader will be released. All the volumes that have been released are available at your finest comic shop, and the two new volumes are available for pre-order now. Oh, and you might want to pick up Brown's new non-Star Wars volume, Kids Are Weird and Other Observations from Parenthood, which was just released a couple weeks back.

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