There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?
Feathers is a six issue miniseries by Jorge Corona and Jen Hickman that was released over the course of 2015. It follows an avian child, Poe, in a world where the divide between the two classes is held in place by an almighty wall. The White City houses the elite in their finest hosiery, whilst the other side of the wall holds the general populace in the more run-down area, The Maze. Struggling to find his place in a world that hates and fears him, when he encounters a young girl from the privilege of the upper class, Poe soon discovers that everything that he thought might be incomplete. With a narrative framed as a mysterious and ongoing battle between two deities, everyone might not have as much choice in their actions as they think.
The metaphor of the barrier is apparent as an analogue for any marginalised population from the very beginning. Unexpectedly, Jorge Corona manages to explore the varying attitudes that this creates over a very short space of time. The parents of the youthful and excitable Bianca are where this is the most clear: the mother and father have diametrically opposed views, but are each believable reactions to the situation at hand. The mother uses her religion to justify the continued separation, while the father thinks that because this is the way that it’s always been, it’s how it should remain. These justifications are two of the most common in the case of prejudice and are delivered in a way that feels subtle while also driving the message home.
The two main characters feel immature and young for the vast majority of this book, providing young readers with a relatable representation of themselves. Bianca has a devil-may-care attitude and the sense of invincibility that always comes with youth. The moment when she has the realisation that everything can’t easily be solved by her parents is a humbling moment for her and she behaves in such a visceral way that truly breaks your heart. You get dragged along with Bianca's enthusiastic reaction to this new adventure, so you feel as shocked as her when she realises that it's no longer a game.
Both characters are very childish in their approach and beliefs until, suddenly, they aren’t. This drastic shift could be interpreted as an inconsistent characterisation, but is instead the sign of something far better. In a situation where the adults have far more experience with the status quo and have their preconceived notions of how the system should be run, it takes a fresh look at the world, through the eyes of the kids, to see what needs to change. They haven’t had chance to be permeated by the ingrained prejudices and judgements that fill the head of all of the people around them.
Corona’s art makes the age of the characters unmistakeably clear. Rather than create little chibi versions of characters or depict them as far older than they actually are, both Poe and Bianca look their age; there's no doubt that they’re experiencing all of this for the very first time. Their wide-eyed reactions and over-exaggerated body language beautifully captures the enthusiasm of youth. Beyond the protagonists, the rest of the cast each have their own little quirks and mannerisms that make them easily identifiable and their presence in the story feel vital.
Keeping up the pace is important, but the visual nature of the medium provides opportunity for the more talented creators to keep you engaged. Corona proves that he falls under this classification by consistently rotating the panel camera around to give a broader look at the surrounding city, while also showing his characters pacing and gesticulating. Beyond that, his use of silhouettes in the more conversational scenes creates some astoundingly beautiful shots. Even as Poe and Bianca discuss something as seemingly mundane as the most appropriate plan, the way that the information is presented will keep even the oldest of readers engaged.
The villain of the piece is almost inconsequential. It’s not that I dislike him; he’s got a very familiar villain aesthetic and a novel representation of his musical abilities. However, he has been placed as a vessel to get all of the characters where they needed to go. Poe and Bianca are taken from their respective places around the poverty/privilege divide and are shown things that they would never have otherwise seen. While this is admittedly a pretty standard trope, framing the action in the midst of a shrewdly ill-defined ongoing war between two deities keeps it all feeling fresh. There are puppet strings dangling above the heads of almost all of the driving forces in this story, adding a crucial layer of intrigue and destiny on top of an already fantastic story.
Beyond anything else, this book is a hell of a lot of fun and charm all rolled into one beautiful package. I seem to have a penchant for taking all-ages stories and reading too much into them, but there regularly seems to be a hidden depth that I love to pick apart. Being confined to the boundaries of an all-ages rating forces creators to flesh out their plot and their themes first, instead of relying on violence or shock value. Nowhere is this more true than within the pages of this series. You get the aesthetically pleasing, cell-shaded art that appeals to all generations, with a surface level plot for the youngsters that has a far greater depth for those willing to strive to look for it. This is a miniseries that I can’t recommend enough; there are some mild moments of peril that you might want to explicitly approve, but this is a book that both kids and parents alike are going to love.
Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or head over to thegreengorcrow.com for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!