The best graphic format books entice young people—even those who would not describe themselves as readers—because they’re caught up in the scene before they're even conscious of becoming engaged. They want to understand what’s going on, so they begin reading the dialogue balloons. Before they know it, they’re hooked. The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier, colored by Alec Longstreth, adds to that winning formula a delectable pirate adventure, a kidnapping and an evil pair of gargantuan merwitches. Who could resist?
There’s also a budding friendship between Walker Bean and Shiv, a teen on the ship’s crew who looks out for him, and an unexpected ally (we won’t say who). Renier has a knack for creating cavernous interiors (such as the pirate ship’s hull) and claustrophobic street scenes, and his pacing is superb. Kids who are true comics aficionados will also appreciate the color by Aaron Reiner. I hadn’t realized how essential the colorist was to successful comics until I spoke with Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim about their collaboration, The Eternal Smile. Like music in a film, color sets the mood; it also indicates a change in location and, in the case of Walker Bean, the decision to make him the sole blond means he can easily be spotted even in a crowded street or a pirates’ brawl.
If your teen enjoys making his or her own comics, be sure to recommend Adventures in Cartooning. Even though it’s in our ages 8-12 section, it’s funny and sophisticated enough to appeal to teens, too. And its tips for making comics are some of the easiest to follow and to immediately put to use.