Reviews: Bumble & Snug and the Angry Pirates

Bumble & Snug and the Angry Pirates,
Mark Bradley,
Hodder Children’s Books

In our wee Indy bookshop we’re always on the look-out for new reading to excite many of our younger regulars looking for recommendations. We’ve had a lot of success with graphic novels for kids, rather satisfyingly this success is both with regular readers and also some kids who are reluctant readers, or have problems with reading. Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series and Jamie Smart’s fabulous Bunny Vs Monkey series from the Phoenix comic have proven particularly popular, alongside evergreen classics like Tintin, Blake and Mortimer and Asterix. I think after reading the first of Mark Bradley’s Bumble & Snug books, I can safely add them to this list, because we’re going to be recommending the heck out of this one.

For those who haven’t encountered them before on Mark’s site, Bumble and Snug are bestest friends, and a kind of monster called a Bugpop, living in Bugpopolis (population 8, 504, 028, with 5, 867 hat shops) – there’s a handy map at the start showing the city, the nearby She Sells Seashells Shore Bay, Mercreature Lake, the Forest of Unicorns, Vampire Castle, Dragon Caves and Sleeping Giant Mountains. Bumble and Snug live at 18 Hijinks Row, and are forever getting into all sorts of fun-filled adventures.

Bumble (the blue Bugpop) is very excitable, she loves noises, constantly trying new things and making friends. She’s “50% enthusiasm, 50% energy”, and can change her size and shape. Snug is a bit more thoughtful, being “33% kindness, 33% caring and 33% brains”, loves supporting and helping others, especially his friends, and his favourite place is the library. Between the two of them they get themselves into some wonderful amounts of trouble, then back out of it by working together.

The togetherness theme is pretty central here, mostly seen through Bumble and Snug’s friendship, but also in the way the interact with the others they meet, even a bunch of seemingly dangerous pirates – there’s a lovely subtext here about understanding others, being patient with them and trying to be kind and supportive, all qualities I think we want our little readers to grow up with. Story-wise we have enormously fun and enjoyable adventure, as the pair go off for a picnic which goes wrong, seeing them stranded on an island, finding hidden pirate treasure (X marking the spot, of course!), then having to deal with the furious pirates and a rather upset sea monster too.

Honestly, adventure, pirates, treasure, an angry giant octopus, picnics, balloons, glitter and ice-cream, I mean what more do you need in a story?!?!?! I laughed throughout Bumble and Snug – it cracks along at a terrific pace, throwing in some lovely gags and visuals (to reach their chosen picnic site Bumble blows herself up to giant balloon size to float them there) constantly, at just the right tempo to keep young minds happily occupied and engaged, and it’s wonderfully funny throughout, with a lovely, clear, uncluttered but very effective art style (the facial expressions especially work, and often cracked me up on their own).

This is an absolutely joyous delight to read, for kids and for adults who still know how to speak to their inner child, it will entertain them, make them laugh, and as a bonus it weaves in lessons about friendship and compassion and dealing with emotions too. In fact it comes with little extras talking about understanding feelings, as well as neat little guides to how to draw your own Bugpops and make your own comics pages (and if there is one thing most kids I know love even more than reading a good comic, it’s feeling inspired to draw their own).

I’m highly recommending this to anyone with young readers looking for their next comics fix.

This review was originally penned for Down The Tubes.

Reviews: Bluebard, a Feminist Fairytale

Bluebeard: a Feminist Fairy Tale,
Metaphrog,
Papercutz

I’ve adored Glasgow duo Metaphrog’s work for many years now – their wonderful Louis graphic novels always entranced me, with a subtle mixture of the child-like innocence and deeper layers of darkness behind that bright world, that rewarded multiple readings. I think that aspect of their storytelling has paid off handsomely in their output for Papercutz, with the previous books The Red Shoes and The Little Mermaid. Both presented magical worlds, enchantment and wonder, complimented by Sandra’s beautiful artwork (please, do go and take a look at the Little Mermaid in particular, the art is gorgeous), but the storytelling never shies away from the menace and darkness that lurk within those tales. Our collective imagination of fairy tales have always carried these dark elements – they were, after all, as much cautionary tales as they were entertainment, and Metaphrog’s approach has been perfectly suited to this.

I’m sure most readers will be familiar with the idea of Bluebeard – the mysterious, intimidating wealthy lord of a large castle, who plucks a young, innocent maiden from her simple but loving family life in the poor village to be his wife. Or at least his latest wife – the castle walls are adorned with portraits of a number of women, previous wives. What happened to all of them? Even for adults, familiar with the story, there is still a compulsion to see it retold, to experience that combination of wonder and chills (for the wondrous often comes with a dark shadow, to dare wonder is often to also court terror), something rewarding about revisiting it again – and that is one of the hallmarks of many fairy tales, that they are infinitely re-readable, adaptable, giving new meanings at different stages in our lives and experiences.

For the younger readers, who this is principally aimed at, it may, of course, all be new, their first time entering Bluebeard’s richly adorned yet somehow cold and loveless castle. While the main story beats of Bluebeard are all present, Metaphrog take care to introduce the main characters in the village: after a glimpse of the castle, and the deep, dark, menacing forest around it, we see the village, in much warmer, happy tones. There are lovely wee touches throughout – mended sections on house roofs, like patches on an old piece of clothing, hinting at a people who do not have much, but are able to get by, make do and mend, and are content with it because as long as they have those little homes and their families, what else do they really need?

Young Eve, the girl who Bluebeard will later claim as his latest wife, receives the most attention here, and I was pleased to see her richly described, and her family and friends around her. In some versions the bride to be is a just a two-dimensional character there to serve the plot, but that would never do for Metaphrog, they are too skilled in storytelling, and besides, there is, as the subtitle “a feminist fairy tale” suggests, a quite deliberate move here to ensure that the female characters are fully developed, not just pawns in a story to be moved around by the men in their life, and it is all the richer for it. This also has the bonus of making the readers much more invested in the characters and their fates, with the relationship between young Eve and her best friend from childhood, Tom, especially touching, a lovely, warm, pure love.

The artwork, as you would expect from previous books, is utterly gorgeous, colour schemes moving from warm tones for the village and family life, to darker hues and menacing shadows for the dark forest around the castle. There are many beautiful details and touches – among the portraits of the former wives, for instance, one that bears a remarkable resemblance to another strong woman, Frida Kahlo – and influences to be spotted and admired, with the use of silhouettes and shadows in some panels putting me in mind of the astonishing work of early film animation wizard Lotte Reiniger., while some of the art, especially characters and their expressions, eyes and so on, hint at an anime influence.

While the younger readers may not get those references, they will still react to the styles, the colours and framing, while it offers these lovely gifts to the adults reading with their children – and this really is a book to share with your children, and then explore some of the themes and the influences (a perfect excuse to introduce them to Reiniger’s animation, much of it available on YouTube, a good diversion during Lockdown! Who knows, it may even inspire some creative art in the young readers). I’ve already paged my way through this twice and I think like previous Metaphrog books it is going to reward repeat readings as there is so much detail and more references to get in Sandra’s artwork, while the strong female characters are inspiring, especially for young girl readers, but it’s good for the young boys to be exposed to strong girl characters too!

Metaphrog’s Bluebeard is pretty much a perfect balance of the wonder and the scarier elements a good fairy story requires, while taking time to enrich the characters and present us with strong female protagonists gives a welcome contemporary aspect while retaining the story’s ages-old nature at its core,and the cautionary, coming of age journey into adulthood elements, while the artwork has pages that adult and younger readers alike will happily lose themselves in. Ideal for younger readers, even better for adults to read with them (and why wouldn’t you? Storytelling with children is one of the nicest shared experiences we can have). Hugely recommended reading for young and the older (but still young in reading heart) alike.

Bluebeard by Metaphrog is published on May 5th – check their Twitter feed where, since they can’t celebrate the book launch in a bookstore or school because of the Lockdown, they are going to have a virtual celebration for the launch day.