28 February 2006

Review: Spiral-Bound by Aaron Renier

I mentioned Aaron Renier in my last bit about the New York Comic Convention, and I'm coming back to him because it bears repeating: Aaron Renier is a quality individual. He was manning the Top Shelf booth somewhere in the middle of the madness on the main floor, and was willing to look over some stuff I had brought with me and give some pointers. While I was there, I picked up a copy of his graphic novel Spiral-Bound (Renier), and Aaron personalized it for me, sketching in a picture of one of the book's characters at the drawing board. I had absolutely no idea what I was buying, but the personalization pretty much guaranteed I was going to hang on to it for awhile. Looking back on it, I'm somewhat annoyed now that I didn't get it signed for my little sister; this book is the kind of thing she'd love, and it would have made a fantastic gift. Maybe I'll go back and get another copy for her next time I'm at a con Aaron's attending.

The book itself is a refreshing change of pace for anyone who's been reading mainstream comics far, far too much recently, as I have. The book is set in a town of animals, all of different sorts, all acting human, dressing human, working and playing like humans -- but they are still distinctly animals. The story primarily follows Turnip the elephant, who is shy but a talented sculptor; Stucky Hound, an outgoing dog with a flair for engineering; and Ana the rabbit, bored and looking for adventure because her best friend is out of town for the week.

The plot is a fun little monster mystery type story that I don't really need to spoil here; it combines the whimsy you'd expect from the book's setting and tone with some nice character moments between the child/teenage animals and their parents. It ends happily ever after and everyone's learned a lesson; nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, but enjoyable.

The art is the book's strongest point -- Renier's style fits the work perfectly and the visuals make the piece come alive in ways that just wouldn't work in a less cartoony style or in prose. The dialogue does what it has to and is fun to read, which is due in no small part to Renier's quality lettering.

There are a few missteps here and there -- Ana and Emily's paper-mache and toilet-paper tube elephant is entirely too convincing as a disguise, especially with no explanation of why. Of all the whimsical little things in the story that don't make too much sense if you completely miss the point and try to think about them in too much depth -- an underground railroad network that connects everywhere in town, for instance -- the fake elephant was the only instance where I got distracted while reading it because of its implausibility.

All in all, a very nice read and well worth the fifteen dollars I spent on it. I'd mainly recommend it for middle and high-schoolers; anyone can get enjoyment out of reading Spiral-Bound, but it would probably resonate most with younger readers.

Spiral-Bound is written and drawn by Aaron Renier, and published by Top Shelf Productions. You can visit them online at www.topshelfcomix.com.

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