As far as I can remember, this was my first time reading The Phantom Tollbooth. Throughout every page, I thought it would be more enjoyable if I were reading it out loud to a child. I don’t have kids, and this didn’t provide any nostalgic thrill, so I undoubtedly didn’t like it as much as many other people do.
The story doesn’t make a ton of sense--there are big gaps in the plot that are largely ignored. The wordplay was more cute than clever, mostly puns. Again, kids would like this, but it falls pretty flat to an adult. There are a lot of characters who run quickly in and out of the story without having much effect. The characters generally only have one personality trait or aspect each, and even those are not consistent. The moral(s) are generally positive, although there are also a ton of them, and they are not regularly applied by the characters. It’s not like Milo began to appreciate learning and used that to save the princesses, for example.
Overall, The Phantom Tollbooth is a collection of cute ideas that would likely appeal to children, especially if it’s being read to them in small segments. But without the nostalgia kick, it doesn’t hold appeal for adults.
It’s here, you guys! The concluding issue of “Monster at the Institute.” What happens to the monster? Does Dr. Sullivan make it home safely? What about Theo? Read Issue 6 to find out!
I hope you all have has as much fun with this project as I have. To my knowledge, there aren’t any other online comics using the Prezi platform, and I’d love to hear what you all thought of it. What worked? What didn’t? What technically worked but was too annoying to be worth dealing with? What was so amazing that you just had to call your mom to tell her about it?
As a reminder, all of these comics are absolutely free, if you want them to be. While I appreciate and humbly thank those who have chosen to contribute money, this is a pay-what-you-want system. And if what you want is $0, then that’s totally fine. Also, I have no plans to take these issues offline any time soon, so check back in frequently to see what’s up! Michael Neno has been sending me pencils and completed panels for the next (much shorter) story, and I’ll have more information about that on this blog as it gets closer.
But for now, click through and enjoy the entire first series of The Outbreak, “Monster at the Institute!”
A lot of comics, even long-form literary “graphic novels,” tend to excel either visually or narratively, but rarely both. Especially when a single person serves as both the writer and the artist, there’s often a noticeable strength in one area. In most well done comics, I don’t even notice this disparity as I’m reading. I only mention it here because in Asterios Polyp, both the art and the narrative are so strong and interdependent on each other that it made me start noticing weaknesses in other comics. And that’s not a bad thing.
I couldn’t provide a plot summary without giving away some of the details that Mazzucchelli drips to the reader throughout the course of the entire book. There’s not a single blatant info dump to speak of. The characters don’t ask too many questions of each other, in a way respecting each other’s privacy. For the reader, the art serves to define them without relying on words–for example, Asterios’s blue geometric shape design melding with Hana’s red sketchy design. The words they do use are well chosen and reveal something significant about them--for example, the opening scene contradicts multiple things Asterios says in flashbacks later…what has happened to him in the meantime?
During an interview with Terry Gross, one of the “Breaking Bad” writers (either Peter Gould or Thomas Schnauz) said, “Give your audience two and two, and let them make four. They’ll love you forever.” Easier said than done, but Mazzucchelli nails it. And he weaves the artwork into the words in a way in which neither could exist alone. This feels like a comic that was conceived as a comic, or maybe an art project that we lump in with comics because of its similarity in format. It’s something special, a model for comics done correctly.
Issue #5 of The Outbreak, the next-to-last issue of “Monster at the Institute” is online now for your viewing pleasure! This issue begins the action-packed climax I promised you earlier. And it’s the longest issue yet! There’s blood and guts, so hopefully that makes up for all the bookishness of the previous issue. #lupanoidguts. Make it a thing!
Just a reminder (or news, to anyone stumbling across this post), ALL issues of The Outbreak are free and available all the time. So relax! Enjoy! With frequency!
For those interested, here’s a summary of Chapter 4 (Issue #4):
Dr. Sullivan has been reading Dr. Fenimore’s published studies. He writes in his journals about Dr. Fenimore’s research into human evolution, which has stalled. He speculates that humans can only continue to evolve if they have a real, worthy predator again, such as the lupanoids.
Enjoy issue #5!
Until recently, I didn’t realize that Free Comic Book Day is a “thing,” like Black Friday or something. Not a holiday, but still a nationally recognized day when comics people stop what they’re doing and celebrate comics. Yay comics!
I’m equally passionate about the idea that art (ideas, knowledge, inspiration) should be free as I am about the idea that artists should be able to support themselves doing their art. Public funding for the arts is incredibly important, but there are only so many grants to go around. I address this in my work with a pay-what-you-want model, which allows the comic to be open to everyone who wants to see it and allows those who have the means to contribute to the creation of more art.
Free Comic Book Day aims toward the same goal. Go to your local comics shop(s) today and pick up whatever free comics look interesting. Then browse around to see if there’s anything else in your budget that might be fun. Buying a comic from a local brick-and-mortar shop not only supports that independent retailer, but it also supports the publisher (can you find a small press producing comics you like?) and everyone else who contributes to the comics creation, such as the writers, the pencilers, the inkers, the colorists, the letterers, the editors, the publicists, etc. (I should also mention that you can catch Michael Neno, artist of The Outbreak, at Pack Rat Comics all day.)
But even if you can’t make it to a physical store for some reason, take some time to check out the amazing free/pay-what-you-want comics online, most of which are available all 365 days of the year! Pay attention to the names of the creators, and try to find other work they’ve done. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are a few of my favorites:
I hope you’re still enjoying The Outbreak as much as President Obama is!
OK, maybe he was reading Where the Wild Things Are, but I’m sure that’s probably just because he doesn’t know about “Monster at the Institute” yet!
Chapter 4, which posted earlier today, is a pretty short one in which Dr. Sullivan learns a little more about Dr. Fenimore’s research agenda. We’re approaching the action-packed conclusion in Chapter 5, so stay tuned!
For those who like such things, here’s a summary of Chapter 3 (Issue 3):
Dr. Sullivan speaks to Theo, who runs the small animal center, while storing two hedgehogs and a rat he captured with the help of the Confrontation. Theo explains that Dr. Fenimore has been requesting many live lupanoids lately, but that Theo has to take dead, cut-up lupanoids back to the incinerator. Dr. Sullivan goes with Theo to collect lupanoids and is admitted by Ivan into the laboratory. He sees two autopsy tables with various tools built into the ceiling. On one of the tables, he sees a very old man--Dr. Fenimore, but much aged recently. When he calls to the old man, he is choked by the smell again, and Ivan asks him to leave. Outside the lab, he looks into Theo’s cart and sees parts of lupanoids in various states of dissection. Theo takes them back to the incinerator.
Continue on to Issue 4 here!
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