August 16, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #20 (Rikki by Norm Harper and Matthew Foltz-Gray)



See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

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?

The Jungle Book stands up there as one of the most famous books to be adapted into an even more well-regarded Disney animation. What you might not know is that there’s an ancillary story within the original Rudyard Kipling anthology book named Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which is where Rikki draws its influence. Rikki follows a mongoose that is occasionally eponymously named, which I’ll get to, as he finds himself in a situation that sets off a chain of life-changing events, forcing him to cross paths with the most unexpected of people. It’s a standard coming-of-age story wrapped up in some absolutely gorgeous art that pushes it far higher than the story alone could achieve.



That’s not to say that there aren’t aspects of this comic, specifically related to the plot, that I do like. Rikki deals with serious concepts while never losing the exciting sense of adventure that comes from an exploration into unknown territory. The mongoose protagonist, originally named Tavi, finds himself in the uncharted land of a human house and subsequently, for plot related reasons, has to reinvent himself from the ground up. Attempting to decipher the core parts of his being that transition through the personality shift leads to some really fascinating situations.

However, the actual plot itself feels very formulaic. While the story centred around the confrontation with the king cobras is engaging, the rest borders on cliché. Drawing influence from such a classic piece of literature creates an ironic situation where it feels as though you’ve read a story like this before. Media that influences so much after it subsequently, if incorrectly, feels stale to new readers; these are tropes and story beats that, as an adult, you’ve read or seen before. Putting them in the context of these admittedly adorable creatures definitely helps, but it’s debatable as to whether or not it’s enough.

Foltz-Gray's art is absolutely phenomenal from beginning to end. It leans into the Disney adaptation influences, but remains a distinct enough style that it doesn’t feel like individual frames pasted together. The way that Foltz-Gray manages to emote these definitively non-human creatures is impressive, keeping the focus clearly on these characters and their current emotional state. On top of all of that, there’s an attention to detail that leaps out at you in the single page spreads. There’s a synergy between the pencilwork and the colouring that works extraordinarily well in an upbeat story such as this.


There’s an underlying humour to a lot of the book that keeps it moving along, even when the driving force from the core plot starts to falter. As the titular character tries to figure out where he came from, he and his brand new friend, Khan the house-cat, are taken through a montage of increasingly ridiculous and wonderfully delightful tests as they attempt to pin down exactly what animal Rikki is. It’s a sequence full of levity that serves to make the succeeding scene feel all the more deliberately serious. Sequencing a graphic novel can be arduous work, so it’s worth pointing out this successful pacing where it’s apparent.

People who are fans of the original story will be able to come into this graphic novel and see all of the elements of the story that they know and love, but it’s difficult to say if fresh adult readers have anything to gain here. As much as there were moments when I started to get into this book, something new would pop up that would push me right away. It’s worth mentioning here that this book is undoubtedly suitable for a younger audience; it has mongooses behaving like humans and, at the end of the day, isn’t that far better than anything your kids could ever ask for?


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 mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.