July 8, 2012

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Batula

Wrriten by Steven T. Seagle
Illustrated by Marco Cinello
Image Comics

Livingston the fruit bat is about to have his life turned upside down (or is that right side up in the case of a bat?) when his wanderings place him right in the path of a vampire bat.  Now forever changed, Livingston must find a way to deal with his difference.  If he can't, his friends might just pay the price!  It's a lesson mixed into a cute story in this all ages story from two children's television veterans and Image comics.

I have to admit I was extremely surprised to see Image comics producing an all-ages work.  While I know the publisher is varied and I sample that variety regularly, I think of Image as the place where creators take their Vertigo-like stories, not one that could just as easily come from Scholastic.

I was further surprised to find Seagle as the writer, since I had no idea he was working in animation.  I think everything I've ever read from him was at a very adult level, so seeing him shift gears and write for children was something I was curious about.  Could he make the adjustment without feeling like he was writing down to the audience?  The answer was, happily, yes.

Livingston longs to be special, but that desire almost costs him his life.  If he hadn't found a way to accept help from another character who is unlike the mainstream (a were-spider who narrates the tale), this story wouldn't have such a happy ending.  Initially treated badly for not being like the other bats and pestered about it once he moves into vampirism, Livingston proves that there is value in difference.  There's a dual message of appreciating who you are as well as accepting difference, but neither are drilled into the reader's skull.  They are a natural progression of the story, which is what makes this a good children's book.

Aiding the quality of this book are Marco Cinello's visuals.  He draws all of the characters in large, exaggerated fashion, making eyes and eyes and claws as big as possible.  The bats stand out against the backgrounds by the use of vivid blacks and purples.  Any images meant to stand out to the reader are in the most vibrant colors as possible, such as blood red for the spider or when Livingston dons his Batula persona.    (As an aside, I like that while the authors are using the Batman illusion to get attention, the plot really has very little to do with Bruce Wayne or his alter ego.  You can critique them for trying to latch on, but at least there's no "my bat parents are dead" or Alfredo the Batler or anything that should be left to Mad Magazine.)

Cinello's backgrounds are also eye-catching in their use of color, whether it's the green-orange tree or just a deep orange background or the blue light of the city.  You can tell that there's an eye towards animation in the way the backgrounds serve as a drop to the main action.  In terms of style, this is very reminiscent of Scott Morse's painted work, with a feeling of reality and unreality, at all the same time.

Batula is meant for a younger audience and would probably not work for anyone in upper grade school.  As a children's book, however, it's a great piece of work and is definitely recommended for the right audience.  Seagle and Cinello know who they're writing this for, and the result is a book I'd easily give a young cousin.