March 29, 2018


Herding Cats: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection (No. 3). By Sarah Andersen. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

Fly Guy #18: Fly Guy and the Alienzz. By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

     Sarah Andersen continues to offer her skewed and often perceptive take on the life of a modern young woman in the third Sarah’s Scribbles collection, Herding Cats. Actually, what Andersen – or her cartoon avatar – mostly herds is her own uncertainties, insecurities and irritations at the ups and downs of everyday life. Andersen pictures herself as a big-headed, rectangular-bodied character with huge eyes that are decidedly not anime-like but that are very expressive. The Sarah’s Scribbles drawings can include just two panels or as many as seven, depending on what mini-story Andersen is telling. One five-panel example has her enjoying some simple, silly things in life, from a flower crown to a choker she thinks is cute, while outside-the-panel voices criticize everything – leading to a plaintive, super-bulging eyes comment in the final panel, “I just want to enjoy being alive.” Another five-panel sequence, “How to Put a Shirt Back When Shopping,” starts by showing her neatly re-folding the shirt and putting it back on a pile, only to decide self-consciously, “You ruined it,” followed by “You ruined everything,” followed by a final panel showing everything everywhere in flames: “How did you mess up this badly?” This sort of wry self-awareness permeates Sarah’s Scribbles. One sequence shows “Present Me” and “Future Me” with a pile of work between them – until “Present Me” shoves all the work onto “Future Me” and runs away. On another page, “an old song you used to like” returns to bring happiness – but turns out to be dragging a gigantic ball labeled “terrible memories.” And there are several instances recognizing the extent to which both real and online life seem increasingly unfriendly nowadays: Andersen is happy and feels “we’re actually making progress” when a character with a U.S. flag (sort of) for a head mentions “pre-2016” that same-sex marriage has been declared legal – but then, “post-2016,” a panel shows everything burning and people screaming and fighting as Andersen cries out, “What is happening?” Elsewhere, Andersen releases anger that she describes as “petty,” only to find out that it is boomerang-shaped and comes back three years later to smack into her with renewed force. The unique style of Andersen’s art makes it amply communicative with only a few words – which, however, means that the final part of Herding Cats, an extended essay that is “a guide for the young creative” and has only a few illustrations, is the weakest part of the book. This is a well-meaning discussion of the importance of staying true to your creative impulses even if your parents disapprove, even if Internet trolls try to take you down, even if you self-sabotage by diving into depression upon hearing one single item of yours described as “bad thing” when everything else you do is described as “good thing.” But the illustrations (good thing, good thing, good thing, good thing) are so much better than the mediocre text (bad thing) that the essay makes it clear, as does the rest of the book, that where Andersen excels is in visual, not textual communication.

     Another character with gigantic, bulging eyeballs on a disproportionately small body is Tedd Arnold’s Fly Guy, whose adventures are aimed at kids rather than adults. The latest of them, Fly Guy and the Alienzz, is more elaborate than many of the earlier ones. Fly Guy and the boy who keeps him as a pet, Buzz (whose eyes are also huge and bulging), get together to make a movie using Buzz’s cell-phone camera. Arnold is clever here in showing Buzz doing things that a young reader of this book could actually do to make his or her own movie. Buzz shows Fly Guy how he drew three green aliens, “cut them out, and glued them on sticks, like puppets.” There is a “secret hero fort” made of cardboard and a “solid-gold spaceship” that is clearly shown to be a flashlight with cardboard tail fins taped to it. The movie starts with Fly Guy and Buzz Boy (also cutouts on sticks) captured by the aliens, with Fly Guy escaping as Buzz Boy is tied up. Then things get complicated as Arnold brings in other characters – Dragon Dude and Fly Girl – as Fly Guy talks in his usual buzzy manner (“Oopzz!”). Eventually space pirates steal the aliens’ solid-gold spaceship, so the aliens are marooned on Earth and decide to become good guys, while Buzz and Fly Guy are left to think up a movie sequel. This is a lot to pack into 30 pages, but Arnold does a good job of pacing the story and keeping it and the characters consistent. There is a lot of Fly Guy material out there, including fact books as well as adventures with Buzz, and kids who enjoy Arnold’s characters will appreciate the fact that they stay true to type from book to book and continue to be amusingly offbeat.

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