They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but sometimes you can. First of all, before we even get into it, we have the author’s name: Craig Thompson, a mark of respectability in comic book circles. He of Goodbye, Chunky Rice (a perennial favourite), he of Blankets and Habibi. So we know it’s a new Craig Thompson, that’s one tick in the box right there. Now let’s take a look at what we can see: a young girl with purple hair in sort of space age garb, holding the hand of an odd orange animal and dragging a junior looking Howard the Duck figure. The three of them are perched what at first look could be a rubbish tip (but which will reveal itself to be a chaperone robot). In the background, a rickety ship-shaped spaceship flees an enormous – what? Space whale? Could be. There are factories belching out smoke, stars twinkling, a quarter of a planet with windows through which we can see – city life of some kind. All of this gives you a really good sense of what you can expect in Space Dumplins (as does the title for that matter). If your response to any of this is: well, that sounds dumb – Space Dumplins isn’t for you. Which isn’t to say Space Dumplins is dumb (it isn’t) and more to say that if you are the kind of person who has long since bid adieu to any sense of wonder, who refuses to read books that – gasp – may also be read by children, who only really has time to, let’s say, re-read Anthony Beevor repeatedly – well, yes, Space Dumplins probably isn’t for you.
So. Now that we’ve made that important distinction, what is Space Dumplins about, man, and where does it fit within Thompson’s overall oeuvre? We’ll take the latter first: this is far more Chunky Rice than it is Habibi. Das ist gut. In terms of the story: purple hair is called Violet (of course). We first meet her at the controls of her dad’s spaceship (her dad is part Paul Bunyan, part Grizzly Adams, a sort of space lumberjack). Her family isn’t rich, we sense, and her mum and dad have some issues (her mum is a sort of space fashionista, a designer who has to work hard for people, we sense, she doesn’t entirely respect, in a world that is unfamiliar to her husband). When Violet’s school is – uhm – eaten, mum and dad struggle to keep Violet amused (mum takes her into work on Shell-tarr, a large city in a bubble). The end of the school is just the precursor for greater trauma though: her dad goes missing and Violet takes off, in the company of a junkyard friend (the orange beastie) and a slightly reluctant Shel-tarr companion (the duck we mentioned) to find him. So we’re in quest country and the quest gives Thompson the opportunity to riff all over the place (you can find out about that for yourself when you read).
Thompson has a little help from colorist Dave Stewart and Stewart deserves immense credit because Space Dumplins feels like it might be just about the most colourful graphic novel ever produced – but it also feels and reads like immense hella fun. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to gobble up in a single sitting (and imagine if you will that a book could be a three course meal entirely composed of desserts – that’s Space Dumplins for you). Is it silly? At times. Does that bother us? Not a bit. There has to be room in this world for silliness and room in this world for fun and room in this world for something that makes you laugh (even as it lands subtle points about the environment etc). Do we like it a lot? Yes we do. And if you’ve got to this point in the review, we think you’ll like it too.
Any Cop?: A book we sense Thompson may have written with the active involvement of his own daughter (who is pictured at the back of the book), Space Dumplins is also a book that calls out for graphic novel loving fathers to share with their own daughters (as I’ve done). It’s a gift that keeps giving.