characters in action2

Advance Review- Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action!

characters in action2
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Every kid should take a pencil daily and practice drawing the most silly, ridiculous characters they can think of.  They should use their imagination to come up with ludicrous tales that take place in outrageous, impossible lands full of talking rabb-ifles. (What is a rabb-ifle?  It can be anything you want it to be!)   As their imagination soars, they should be extremely proud of every warped, misshapen sketch to land on the page.  This is how every great cartoonist begins their journey, and this is how I want my kiddos to start their rise to artistic greatness.  The latest volume in the Adventures in Cartooning series is Characters in Action! by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost.  It will motivate your children to create a universe filled with a parade of absurd people, moderately insane talking animals, and relatively friendly monsters!

Here’s the official description from First Second:

The Knight, Edward the chubby horse, and of course the Magic Cartooning Elf are back for more fun, but this time they’re sharing the stage with a host of new characters.

In Adventures in Cartooning: Characters In Action you’ll learn how to create your own kooky characters. And fresh faces are needed — the famous director Otto Airs is making a movie, and he’s invited everyone in the kingdom to audition! It’s your chance to dream up boatloads of wacky characters to star in the film. Discover how body language and expression are used to tell a story, dress a wizard to the nines, and choose the perfect rogue robot. After following the heroes on their cartooning adventure, you’ll be ready to create characters to star in your own comic book!

If I could choose one person in the entire world to teach my children how to make great comics, that person would be James Sturm.  The dude has created many of my favorite graphic novels including Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, The Golem’s Mighty Swing, and the Eisner award-winning Fantastic Four – Unstable Molecules (find this immediately, it is amazing)James Sturm is one of the modern masters of the comic art form.  The dude even started his own freakin’ college to teach about sequential art- the Center for Cartoon Studies!  Sturm teamed with two of his previous students, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost, to write each volume in the Adventures in Cartooning series.  Characters in Action is the fourth book in their popular collaboration.

The cover shows a peek into the ridiculous minds of the writers.  It features over 30 zany characters including Thesaur-a-saurus, Boogie Bug, Rosey, the stinky sock, Harry, the hairy nose, and Cat Burglar Bear.  The character I most connect to is Thesaur-a-saurus because he seems geeky, silly, and sorta goofy, just like me.  The cover features many lame jokes on it.  Blow Dryer Dave says “this comic will BLOW you away!” while Clyde Fans says “I’m a BIG fan!!!”  Simply from reading it, I know to prepare for some incredibly lame humor, but lame humor is cute and the kids will like it.  It is clearly aimed at a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean adults cannot have fun with it.  And let us not forget- COMICS ARE STILL FOR KIDS.  Many comic fans act like the entire market should target 30 year old men, but dangit, comics are for the all ages and demographics baby!

Like all of First Second Books’ graphic novels, this is a quality printed book for a wonderful price.  The $9.99 price tag is almost a steal in today’s market!

This volume continues the adorable adventures of the main characters, a very scrawny knight and his extremely cute horse, Edward.  The story begins with the knight and his chubby horse reaching the breaking point of boredom.  Every artist knows that boredom can lead to some of the most imaginative ideas to seep from our skulls.  This story is exactly that- wild, wacky, and weirdly genius and creative.  The lead characters are determined to find other eccentrics to go on an adventure with, and luckily they run into a large grouping of interesting, funny, unusual, and straight-up insane characters.

The storyline is charming, comical, and creative.  It is not preachy and never feels like a lesson.  It is a silly little tale with many twists and turns to get your kid’s imagination flowing.  The tale is simply an exploration of the many different types of characters one can create.  The characters begin as stereotypes of knights, kings, beggars, and “very evil” scoundrels.  As the story progresses, however, you see the characters break out of their stereotypes as their own idiosyncrasies are revealed.  I have seen kids make up some screwball characters in the past, but I am sure that after reading this book their characters will just get more inventive and wonderfully bizarre! One of the main strengths of the book is that it allows readers to feel comfortable making their own out-of-the-box characters; nothing is off limits.  Kids will read this and grow even more confident in their ability to let their minds go insane with art.

The art is perfect for young children to learn from.  The characters are drawn with very little detail but an incredible amount of emotion.  They are created from basic shapes put together in ways to allow kids to recreate them easily.  The art is so well done, yet so simple and easy to recreate.  The writers teach the reader how to express emotion without having to even draw facial expression.  Kids will learn to emphasize the pose of the character.  They also study how to focus on body language, clothing, costumes, proportion, and easy-to-draw expressions.  The writers beg readers to create as imaginative, out of the box characters as possible.

Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action! is essentially comic soup- you take simple shapes, mix in some emotion, throw in a spoonful of humor, add a few simple backgrounds, and toss in some of the most preposterously silly twists and turns.  Feed this delicious soup to any kid and he or she will immediately be inspired and confident to create nonsensically awesome characters too.  I give Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action! four and a half stars.  It’s a great little book sold for a good price that will get kids’ artistic juices flowing.



Jay Deitcher, LMSW(@mrdeitcher) is an educator on comic history and runs successful Free Comic Book Day events yearly.  You can see a listing of his incredible articles at

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