- - Friday, December 30, 2011

THE SIGH
By Marjane Satrapi
Archaia Entertainment, $10.95 56 pages

GRANDPA WON’T WAKE UP
By Simon Max Hill and Shannon Wheeler
BOOM! Studios, $7.99 80 pages

KUMAR JOE THE SINGING CROW
By David Boze
Crow Tools Entertainment LLC, $11.99 50 pages

It’s funny how words or drawings separately can garner so much respect but combined are considered kid stuff. Novels, biographies and histories are showered with accolades and awards. Paintings and sketches are the stuff of serious study. But combine words directly with drawings and you have comics. Separate them only slightly and you have children’s books.

The respect level for these combined genres is rising, ever so slightly. Marjane Satrapi is the author and artist of the critically acclaimed two-volume “Persepolis” saga, which tells her story of growing up in Iran during that country’s Islamic revolution and eventually escaping to Europe; and “Chicken With Plums,” a graphic novel about the life and death of her musician uncle, Nasser Ali Khan.

Given her output thus far, it’s surprising that Ms. Satrapi decided to produce “The Sigh.” It’s an illustrated book, not a comic, and the genre is fairy tale. The book’s black, white and blue cover with shiny silver latticework is a sight to behold. Think of a slightly more chaste, less macho version of Gustav Klimpt’s “The Kiss” and you won’t be far off.

On it, two fully clothed Persian-looking lovers are parked on the ground, leaning into each other for support. The man is more leaned over, with his legs kicked out to the side. He has one arm wrapped around the woman’s waist and the other on the ground for balance. The woman is folded down straight. One arm leans into him and the other wraps around his head, pulling him close. Her lips are promisingly puckered.

Unfortunately, the story fails to pay off that promise. A widower trader has three daughters. When he goes away on a trip, he asks what they desire and is able to deliver two of the desired gifts. But the gift that his third, best-looking, smartest daughter, Rose, wants - the seed of a blue bean - cannot be found.

A magical creature named Ah the Sigh shows up with the desired seed. He will give it to the father for a promise and, as we all know, hasty promises usually get people into trouble in fairy tales. Ah comes back a year later demanding that Rose come away with him to a far-off land.

The rest of the story that unfolds is about Rose discovering, losing and questing to get back her true love. The final plot resolution is particularly unsatisfying and we never get the sense of why she wants to marry her love, other than the fact that he’s a prince.

In most fairy tales, that is enough, but from Ms. Satrapi we have come to expect more. She does include one rather good joke, however. One character insists on being sold on a slave market more than once and Ah the Sigh tires of this. He says, exasperatedly, “[T]here are no more slave markets. Slavery has just been abolished.”

 

“Grandpa Won’t Wake Up,” by writer Simon Max Hill and illustrator Shannon Wheeler, is one long-running, sick joke. The book takes the form of a children’s book, but do not buy this for the kids unless you want to warp them for life.

It begins, “We knocked on Grandpa’s door and said ‘Hey Gramps, it’s almost noon.’ You said you’d take us to the park, you said you’d take us soon. But Grandpa didn’t answer us, sometimes he’s such a creep. And when we burst into his room Grandpa was still asleep!” Spoiler warning: Grandpa is dead.

 

The book I’ve read recently that combines pictures and words most effectively is the least inventive in terms of genre. “Kumar Joe the Singing Crow” is a proud children’s book by popular conservative Seattle radio personality David Boze (whose program I’ve been on once or twice) and the talented illustrator Chris Hopkins. They had me at the intro, by the end of the second sentence: “Human science has placed crows in the scientific category of songbirds, also known as passerine. Birds, however, know better.”

Indeed they do. Mr. Boze’s tale is about a family of crows that hatch a most unusual little crow named Kumar who wants to sing. He has to struggle not only against his own family’s practical scavenger incomprehension, but against the snobbery of the local songbird choir and the hunger and cunning of a fearsome house cat. Your humble critic gave his only copy away for Christmas and will now have to order another. It is a story well told and highly recommended.

• Jeremy Lott, editor of Real Clear Books and Real Clear Religion, is writing a book about death.

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