Take me to Chowder Bay

April 28, 2008

One of the phrases I overuse to describe comics I really like and admire is to say that they cohere. I don’t know if I’ve ever adequately explained what I mean by that, so I’ll take another shot at it.

What I basically mean is that all of the elements work together to achieve a specific, worthwhile effect. Plot, dialogue, characterization, illustration, tone – everything clicks into place. There can be discordance in the way the elements come together, and I think it’s generally preferable that there is some appealing, diverting clashing going on. (Look at how Fumi Yoshinaga’s lanky, sexy art jangles so pleasingly against her chatty, airy dialogue, or how Joann Sfar’s bursts of philosophizing amiably derail a conventional narrative.)

Added to the list of “books that cohere” is Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy, due May 7, 2008, from Oni. It’s an all-ages comedy-adventure about young brothers on a family vacation to a decidedly unpromising seaside town. Jack and Benny discover that Chowder Bay, Maine, is a lot more interesting than it initially seems. I’m extremely reluctant to describe the plot in any more detail, because the fun of the book is discovering the town’s weird secrets with them.

I can say that I really, really love the look of this book. It just lopes along, visually speaking. The kids are charmingly gangly, and they seem to run everywhere. Character design and facial expressions are spot-on. The detailed settings are familiar but cozily odd, and the action sequences are clear and sharp.

Tone and timing are also just right. Loux is able to introduce likeable characters quickly and without fuss, and he can throw them into endearingly odd scenarios right off the bat. The comedy is very organic and very funny, which is no small feat for a story set in a quirky small town. There’s an overall feel of effortlessness, of everything falling serendipitously into place. It all just works.

What works best, I think, is that Loux gives the kids ownership of the weirdness. The discoveries are theirs, and grown-up skepticism only makes those discoveries more appealing. They’re rewarded for being open-minded. Boredom is vanquished; imagination and adventure win.

(This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)