Robot 6

The five most criminally ignored books of 2008: No. 2, Rapunzel’s Revenge

Rapunzel's Revenge

Rapunzel's Revenge

As a critic, I tend to distrust the recent slate of graphic novels from big book publishers made “for kids.” I have good reason to. Most of these titles seem to be made purely in the interest of catching onto a trend or slapping together a tie-in to an existing franchise. Very few of the books I come across seem to have any true regard for the art form, let alone the audience.

Not so with Rapunzel’s Revenge. This children’s comic, by the husband and wife team of Shannon and Dean Hale and artist Nathan Hale (no relation), is a smart, thrilling and extraordinarily well-executed book.

As you may guess by the title, the story is an update on the classic fairy tale. As you may guess by the cover image above, it plays a bit fast and loose with the source material.

To wit, Rapunzel lives in the lap of luxury under the tutelage of the evil witch Mother Gothel until she discovers the truth of her birth and, rebelling, is banished to a high tree tower. Once her hair grows long enough, however, she’s able to escape and, with the help of a layabout thief, sets about getting her revenge and restoring the natural order of things.

OK, so yes, it’s the updated fairy tale with a Wild West/tall-tale twist and slightly modernist spin. You’ve no doubt seen this sort of thing before, and there are no real surprises here, unless you consider fully thought out, well-rounded characters; and genuine, earned emotion to be surprises. I do, but then I’m a cynic.

Probably the best thing about the book is its main character, who manages to embody the book’s theme of (for want of a better phrase) “self-actualized girl power” without coming across as a wan stereotype. As with the films of Hayao Miyazaki (whose influence, intended or not, seems strong here), Rapunzel comes off as a recognizable and thoroughly likable person. You find yourself hopelessly wrapped up in her adventures and cheering her on towards success.

What’s more, the Hales (all of them) seem to have a real understanding of what makes comics work. Nathan Hale paces the story exceedingly well — his action sequences have a real tension to them, and his backgrounds are filled with vast landscapes and detail. What’s more, Shannon and Dean’s text never once becomes overwritten or burdensome, a real problem with a lot of first-time comic authors.

Again, I’m probably cheating a little bit by including this book on this list, as I suspect it got more than its share of attention in library and children’s book circles. But as is so often the case in the comics world, unless it’s in Previews, has 32 pages and comes out on a Wednesday we ignore it completely. That seems to be especially true for children’s books, which have the unforgivable habit of falling under our radar. Apart from the passing interview, I’m not sure anyone in the comics blogosphere or beyond noticed this book.

And that’s a shame, as Rapunzel’s Revenge is a a real treat. I was utterly besotted by this book after only a few pages, and so was my daughter, who I passed it onto afterward. How nice that to know that books like that — books you can share and enjoy in equal amounts across generational lines — still exist. They seem to come less and less these days.

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7 Comments

Chris, thanks for spotlighting this book! I’d never heard of it, but I’ll be picking up a copy somewhere for my daughter. Sounds like something she’d really enjoy.

It’s funny, because my LCS does a big New Year’s sale on the Sunday after New Year’s Day every year (at thier main store location, not the one I usually buy my stuff at) and this year I decided to take my daughter to find some good, appropriate comics for her. Aside from some floppies, and fairly “baby-ish” ones at that, there was almost nothing for her. I found some digests of Spidey Loves Mary Jane (that are appanretly out of print now, figures) and Runaways (she especially likes that title), but that was pretty much it. I know Rapunzel’s Revenge was not in that store.

If you could keep spotlighting exceptional, overlooked children’s titles like this one, I’d appreciate it.

Chris, thanks for spotlighting this book! I’d never heard of it, but I’ll be picking up a copy somewhere for my daughter. Sounds like something she’d really enjoy.

It’s funny, because my LCS does a big New Year’s sale on the Sunday after New Year’s Day every year (at their main store location, not the one I usually buy my stuff at) and this year I decided to take my daughter to find some good, appropriate comics for her. Aside from some floppies, and fairly “baby-ish” ones at that, there was almost nothing for her. I found some digests of Spidey Loves Mary Jane (that are appanretly out of print now, figures) and Runaways (she especially likes that title), but that was pretty much it. I know Rapunzel’s Revenge was not in that store.

If you could keep spotlighting exceptional, overlooked children’s titles like this one, I’d appreciate it.

Don’t why it posted twice… I just tried to edit my post slightly (fixing the spelling of “their”). Sorry about that!

What bothers me a lot about the marketing of such titles as Rapunzel’s Revenge, is that unless the author already has a HUGE reputation in the prose book world, or the publisher is large enough to put on a massive marketing effort, even the bookstores won’t carry them. The same publisher is also putting out graphic novel adaptations of Twlight Zone scripts (yes, from the original TV series), but those books are much harder to find than Rapunzel’s Revenge. And Carla Speed McNeil’s outstanding adaptation of D. J. Machale’s Merchant of Death (first volume of the Pendragon series) is another one I can’t find in the local stores.

And I care about this – I’m a librarian, and the graphic novel selector for a national book distributor, as well as the graphic novel selector for an online core database of graphic novels for a major library reference publisher.

I just read this book and thought it was terrific. The story is a lot of fun, and the art is topnotch. I’m glad I had a chance to get a copy!

I haven’t read this book, but I have heard of it, so maybe I’m guilty of ignoring it, but only halfway. I would like to point out that blogger J. Caleb Mozzocco reviewed it, so it wasn’t completely ignored by the comic blogoweb.

Also of note among kids’ GNs in 2008: Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi. I just wanted to mention that as well.

Well, Mozzocco is a reviewing machine. Seriously, that guy seems to review just about everything. I don’t know how he does it. Still, him aside, I didn’t see a lot of folks talking about the book the way they did, say, that all-ages Shazam title.

Oh, and agreed on Amulet. I enjoyed that first volume.

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