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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian is a new book-length comic for middle-grade readers by Michael Rex. It’s a story about believing in yourself, accepting differences, being loyal to friends, and cooperating to fight off bad guys. In sum, the same themes as in many other modern stories for children. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The premise is that Fangbone, a boy growing up in the sword-and-sorcery genre, must undertake a magical quest that brings him to North America today. Not unlike Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, in fact. Fangbone has to deal with modern plumbing, spicy chicken wings, and the overall rise in living standards.

I wonder whether the book’s target readers are familiar with the sword-and-sorcery genre. The heyday of Conan the Barbarian in pop culture seems as far back as the heyday of Conan in magical prehistory. So perhaps kids who really like this comic should also be treated to a family viewing of the sublimity that is the original Beastmaster.

I had bigger questions about Fangbone’s warrior tribe. It doesn’t appear to contain any women. It doesn’t appear to contain any other children. The adult male warriors don’t seem to recognize that Fangbone, whom they call a “runt,” is growing bigger day by day, and that in a few years they might depend on him.

Young Fangbone may be premature in claiming the status of a warrior, I thought, but simply by running with them he seems to be extraordinary in his world as well as in ours. The grown men’s contempt feels driven by a storytelling need to make Fangbone seem a little more put-upon and thus sympathetic.

Graphically, Fangbone is a two-color, “digest-sized” comic. Rex draws in a four-fingered cartoon style with a generally unvarying line. The art is deceptively simple, which might inspire readers to try their own comics stories. One interesting graphic element they can look for is how Rex’s panels break out of the orthogonal grid at moments of conflict and, especially, action.

TOMORROW: Fangbone and Room 3G.

(Comments based on autographed advance copy from Renin Publishing Services.)

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