In Review: Space Dumplings

This is a book that goes far beyond its intended audience as it spectacularly entertains all readers. Highest possible recommendation.

Space Dumplings by Craig Thompson

Published by Scholastic, August 25, 2015. Simultaneously released as a jacked hardcover and paperback of 320 pages at $24.99 and $14.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.

Story and art by Craig Thompson. Colors by Dave Stewart.

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: Violet steps upon a pile of mechanical junk, smiling at readers, even though Zacchaeus is anxious to keep moving and Elliot is trying to sneak off. Behind her is a gigantic space whale chasing after her father’s lumber ship. This cover visually sums up each of the leads’ personalities, while hinting at larger events in the background. This is a perfect cover from artist/writer/creator Craig Thompson and colorist Dave Stewart, with the design by Thompson and Phil Falco.

The premise: From the back cover, “For Violet Marlocke, family is the most important thing in the whole galaxy. When her father goes missing while on a hazardous job, she can’t just sit around and do nothing. She throws caution to the stars and sets out with a group of misfit friends on a quest to find him. But space is vast and dangerous, and Violet soon discovers that her dad is in BIG trouble. With her father’s life on the line, nothing is going to stop Violet from trying to rescue him and keep her family together.” I’ve been a fan of space adventures for as long as I can remember, and seeing one done as a graphic novel, even if it is intended for younger readers, has me interested from the get go. Overall grade: A

The characters: Violet Marlocke is the perfect lead for every type of reader. She is instantly relatable for her need to fit in with her peers, with new friends, to have her family stay together, and to look after the well being of others. She doesn’t have all the answers to every problem she encounters, but she’s not going to give up trying to find her dad. Thompson does such an excellent job with her that I melted on Pages 43, 56, 170, and 210 — and that’s just from the story; the visuals only increased the emotion. Her new friends joining her on this adventure are Zacchaeus and Elliot Marcel Opgenorth, or just Elliot. Zacchaeus is going to be a favorite with readers: he’s a little hyper, ready for action, and doesn’t let his size get in his way. He, too, has an emotional moment that hit me hard on 133. Everyone has known a Zacchaeus, and, if they’re lucky, still do. Elliot is the odd man, er…uh, bird out. He is a chicken, and he’s got a story that’s also got some baggage, but what he brings to the book is a depth not expected in a “child’s” novel. His ideas and words are going to motivate readers to keep up with him, because what he’s got to say and do will help Violet and Zaccheaus when they need his assistance the most. Even a small gesture like a hand on a shoulder is a major event from him. The antagonists of this book are many, but chief among them is the loss of Violet’s father. She finds who has him, and it’s a chapter that’s wonderfully, disgustingly graphic and is sure delight all readers. My favorite baddies of the book first appear on Page 120. Their leader is fantastic and their actions perfection in the annals of villainy. There are so many characters in this book, it would take another book just to cite and define them all. Each has so much depth, you’d think they could star in their own adventure, and that’s not a bad idea. Overall grade: A+

The settings: Wow! Where doesn’t this book go? Space is big and so are the number of locations this goes to. There’s her father’s lumberjack ship, her parent’s vessel that they live on, Shell-Tarr — the ultimate safe living quarters for those with the most money, a garbage barge, Violet’s space-bike which is small enough to be missed, yet big enough to house her and her two friends comfortably, the Roids (asteroids) where all her friends live, the Sawmill where her father delivers the logs he harvests, and Lab-Star, a gigantic scientific ship shaped like a giant lobster. Empty space is also a major location, as this where the giant space whales feed and leave something in their wake that’s the fuel source for the galaxy. Shell-Tarr is the apex of culture and civilization in this book, but is so overrun by bureaucracy it’s a wonder anything gets done. My favorite location was the garbage scow because anything could be found there: a friend, a ship, or danger. Overall grade: A+

The action: Every new settings and character brings a threat of danger. Though a character might seem too dangerous, readers can rest assured that Violet and her friends will get out of danger, and in the process maybe make allies. I loved the group that first appears on 120. I can’t go into any type of detail of who and what they are, but they looked like something found on the television show Adventure Time and I adored everything they said and did. They were a highlight. The other hit was the encounter with the whales. They’re mentioned so often throughout the book, it’s a given that they’ll appear. When one finally does, it lives up to all the hype and is a definite highlight of the novel. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: This book closes perfectly, just as one would want, but with the addition of an epilogue. Again, not something expected in a book for younger readers, and often unnecessary in adult novels; it was an absolutely welcome and wonderful addition. I loved how it showed where everyone has ended up, and it was impossible for me not to have a grin on my face looking at Pages 298 -300. All that was missing was closing music. Overall grade: A+

The art: I’ve been reading comic books for as long as I can remember. I was reading comics when “graphic novel” came to prominence in the 1980s. I’m better than average when it comes to what’s out there visually for comic book fans. It’s no small thing when I say, This should be read by every person who loves the visual medium. It’s intended for younger readers and it’s published by Scholastic. So what? This has some of the most highly detailed work I’ve seen in years in comics. Craig Thompson is perfectly running down the line separating the fine artwork one would expect in classic underground comics with characters that look as though they’re from the best in animation. The settings will mesmerize all readers with their grandeur and spectacle. This is like the Where’s Waldo of space comics. I spent forever looking at all the details, and I know I’ll spend more time pouring over them. If you’ve think you’ve seen all there is to see in the graphic novel market, you had better find this book because Craig Thompson is going to be a name you need to know and one to follow. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Eisner Award winning colorist Dave Stewart brings sensational life to the visuals of this book with his jaw dropping coloring. I can’t imagine how much time he must have spent coloring every single detail that Thompson has created, but his efforts were worth it. My preview edition only had the first 32 pages colored but they were enough to wow me. Page 6 is a wonderful example of how colors can be used for setting, with every shade of brown being employed by Stewart to color the interiors of the family’s home. Shell-Tarr is a bright explosion of colors that is everything a child, or adult, would expect from utopia. Pages 25 and 24 are stellar. Stewart does a spectacular job on Mike Mignola’s comic universe, and Thompson was lucky to have him come along on this project with him. Just amazing! Overall grade: A+

The final line: It doesn’t matter how old you are, you will be delighted by the story and thrilled by the visuals. This is a book that goes far beyond its intended audience as it spectacularly entertains all readers. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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