Getting back into the swing of things here with another book from the North American publisher First Second. As I think my reviews on their past books has shown they're really a hit or miss publishing house for me, either I like their stuff or hate it and it doesn't even matter who the actual creator is! So I came across this one at my school library and hoped it would be another hit and, well, it didn't work quite like that.
Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala
Summary: K has had an unhappy life, orphaned at a young age she was raised in an orphanage where all the kids were taught how to steal and punished when they wouldn't so she's happy to finally have left that life behind and to be starting at a new boarding school. But her bad luck seems to follow her since her new school also has plans for her which she's less than pleased about.
The Good: K is a pretty likable lead character and the three girls she befriends are fairly likable as well. And the setting works well for the story, there are hints and details the suggest that the school and the town are even more sinister than the reader initially guesses and I liked that. Apparently Sala's other works also have that element of sinisterness to them and I don't think this story would work at all if it didn't have those little details sprinkled throughout.
The Bad: There are stories that are "family friendly" which are simple enough for a child to follow but have a depth to them that adults can enjoy and there are "for kids" stories which are so simple that they feel flat. This book falls into the later category, it rushes through the story so quickly that it's hard to feel bad about anything that happens to the side characters or even K, there's just no downtime for the reader to process what just happened (I seem to recall complaining about this in Sailor Moon recently as well). As a result of that, and the ending which felt a bit off tone/moodwise, this story didn't leave a good impression on me and I don't think I'll be recommending it.
The Art: After reading a bit of the book I had a niggling feeling that something looked off about it and finally figured out what it was, every single page was laid out the exact same way, either four square frames (in a 2 by 2 configuration) over a large panel or a large panel over those square frames, I can't remember exactly which. Regardless, obviously I like comics that are innovative and creative in their use of panels and how it makes the story flow (I like manga after all and half the time you can't figure out which order to read the panels in) so this isn't my style and honestly I just don't think that such a formulaic approach to the art works. You might be able to pull this off in some story, perhaps, but a story should be told in comic form because the visual aspects adds to the story and when it's so rigidly defined does it really add anything? Add that to what I was already feeling about the writing and this layout makes the whole story feel rather amateurish and as if Sala needed to wait a few more years to further refine this idea before creating it.
So, 2 or 2.5 out of 5 for this one, won't be recommending to really anyone, if anyone really needs good graphic novels for girls ages 8-12 I'm sure I can come up with some better recommendations than this one.