The Middle Ground #44: Space Is The Place
I’ve been going back and forth, trying to work out exactly what it is that I love so much about Dave Roman’s upcoming graphic novel, Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity, because the way that I end up describing it to people so far – “It’s like Scott Pilgrim, but for kids!” – seems curiously unsatisfying, even if it feels entirely honest.
I think the problem with the description is threefold. Firstly, it makes it sound as if AA:ZG is just for kids, which just isn’t true (I’m in my mid-thirties, and it was easily one of the most enjoyable graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, for one thing). Secondly, it suggest that Scott Pilgrim wasn’t for kids (I’m trying to remember if there’s really anything in there that would be inappropriate for the youngsters in the audience and pretty much failing; Oni gave it a teen-friendly rating, didn’t they?). And thirdly, and most importantly, saying something is “for kids” is dangerous in a world and market where labeling things “for kids” is pretty much the same thing as saying “No-one, not even kids, will want to read this because they’ll feel that they’re being patronized somehow.” So, let’s just junk those last two words and wonder for a second why the book – about a high school in space, the students therein and their particular interests, jealousies and adventures – immediately reminded me of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s ridiculously awesome series.
Am I the only person who thought that what made Pilgrim so addictive, especially in the earlier books, was the immediacy and energy of the world it took place in? It was bold and exciting and entirely complete, with a rhythm and language (both in words and pictures) that seemed completely formed and inviting. The same thing is present in Astronaut Academy, which jumps between comedic hyperbole – “This sword is pretty big, eh? Oy! So Heavy! And I am letting you know that this weapon is not just for showing off. (Although feel free to be impressed!) This forged symbol of instructional excellence was bestowed upon me by the power of the Intergalactic Educational Advisory Board and the local PTA! I also got this crafty robotic arm – - just one of the perks of tenure,” explains the headmaster at the very opening of the book – and life lessons metaphorically turned into fantastic spectacle without even breaking a sweat. It’s a fast, fun read that feels fully formed and complete from the first page and makes you want to keep reading until it’s done; there’s something about it that’s got such momentum that you just don’t want to stop.
That’s what connects the two in my mind; the energy, the excitement, the fun. It’s not that there’s any Pilgrim rip-offs in Astronaut Academy (There aren’t) nor even that many parallels beyond that they’re both fun and energetic and good, but the… surprising amount of genuine joy, I guess, that Academy brought is something that I’ve come to associate with the Pilgrim books. That it comes in a book aimed at teens and tweens doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t, and shorthanding the book as “Scott Pilgrim for kids” ends up being some kind of insult. I should just say “Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity is wonderful, and you should read it,” instead.
It’s in the next Previews catalog. You should all go and order it, then read it; you’ll know what I mean, then.