Sunday Book Reviews – 4/11/21

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

Drawing Comics Is Easy (Except When It’s Hard) by Alexa Kitchen (2006, DKP Press)

This is a children’s book which I strongly recommend to anyone dealing with kids 11 and under. It provides basic instructions on how to produce comic strips or comic books, and it has an unusual hook: the author was seven years old.

The somewhat shaky art style and occasional misspellings are immediately reminiscent of the Captain Underpants and Dog Man books which have made Dav Pilkey wealthy and famous, but in this case they aren’t a contrivance. Alexa Kitchen truly was a child when she wrote the book. More, the book isn’t a collaboration between her and an adult (well… not technically… more on this in a bit); it’s all her own work. Because of that fact, the book is useful not only as an instructional guide to provide suggestions on creating art but as an inspirational piece. “This kid got a book deal when she was seven. You can do that!”

You probably shouldn’t tell them how low the odds are, though.

Alexa’s suggestions and instructions are accurate and often insightful, sometimes far beyond what one might expect from a child of her age; she even received laudatory blurbs from Will Eisner and Robert Crumb. For that reason, many reviewers deemed her a child prodigy. I would argue that is not the case.

DKP is “Denis Kitchen Publications”, a creation of Kitchen Sink, which has been one of the most prominent independent comic book publishers for more than fifty years. They produced many of the books for comic book legends like… Will Eisner and Robert Crumb. Also Art Spiegelman, Alan Moore, Al Capp, Neil Gaiman, Scott McCloud, James O’Barr and many others. Alexa was a clever child and one who was willing to practice, but who also had access to many of the best instructors in the world. The book’s insights aren’t a result of her experiences or remarkable wisdom but rather an ability to recall and explain in her own words the lessons of masters of the form.

The beauty of this is that the book thus presents for kids a crash course in lessons from a variety of the best comic artists and writers, hybridized and translated by an earnest child for explanation to other youth. The information they get from the book is, however basic the wording, about as useful as anything you’re likely to find. They’re simply unlikely to get that pre-teen book deal unless their dad happens to be a publisher at Image or Dark Horse comics.

No-Frills Book: Science Fiction by John Silbersack (uncredited) (1981, Jove)

I’ve written about the generic books released by Leisure in the late 1970s. This book – one of four released before the series was dropped – bore a similar but even less remarkable cover. Gone were the different colors for the genres, and no longer were there icons of staple images to catch a purchaser’s eye; all that was provided was a black and white stripe and a tease of things to be found in the story.

The four No-Frills Books (Western, Mystery, Romance and Science Fiction) were the creation of Jove editor and future award-winning science fiction author Terry Bisson, and were designed as a spoof of the publishing industry. The authors were instructed to keep the books short – novella length, no more than 18,000 words – and to cram as many genre tropes into that limited word count as possible while maintaining a semblance of coherent story. Silbersack, the author of the science fiction title, was an editor at Berkley Books (a subsidiary imprint of Jove) who was, as the person in charge of grooming new talent, intimately familiar with all of the overused plot devices and common mistakes seen in the genre.

The cover advertises “Complete with everything: aliens, giant ants, space cadets, robots, one plucky girl”. There’s also a completely irrational “romance” where the hero and heroine fall for each other for no reason; a saboteur on a space ship; time travel; a chase scene; an intergalactic zoo; telepathy; the Earth being destroyed; a prison escape and far more. The book is a hot mess, and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. The short length encourages a reader to blow through the book in one sitting, which is ideal; the rapid-fire progression of events is best experienced comprehensively so that the full extent of the silliness can be appreciated.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.