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Fleen Book Corner: Ocean Renegades!

Abby Howard gets more cartoon effect — pathos, wry recognition, gut-busting laughter — out of fewer, simpler lines than anybody else. Her style is minimal to begin with, but the slightest change to the curve of a mouth line or the angle at which an arm is cocked results in a primal, visceral sense of recognition.

That is pure smugness your brain tells you of the character on the page, or That dad joke physically hurts me why would you do that to me Abby Howard, why, why or That creature that I thought was hideously frightening is actually cute. Every time she pulls one of those tricks, it makes the panel in question stick in your brain, like a song that won’t go away.

And if that panel in question is teaching you about evolution and mutation, or the importance of the amniotic egg to the conquest of the land by non-insect life, or the places of diapsids, synapsids, and anapsids, you’re gonna remember it.

Thus, when Ronnie and Miss Lernin (a dead ringer for Howard herself) find themselves on a new trip back to the dawn of multicellular life in the Cambrian Explosion, and work their way forward through the eras of the Paleozoic to see what critters looked like before dinosaurs? There’s probably no better narrator for our journey than Abby Howard. Not only does her art lend itself to the variety of creatures and plants encountered, her paleontologist training serves well to ensure that the journey is as scientifically accurate as modern understanding allows¹.

This is particularly true in her insistence on providing pronunciation cues for most of the species that Ronnie and Miss Lernin encounter, and it a habit that all long-weird-name-including graphic novels should adopt immediately². Like last year’s Dinosaur Empire!, Ocean Renegades! is a fun, informative (for any age; no matter who you are, dinosaur-era creatures, pre-dinosaur-era creatures, and post-dinosaur-era creatures have been subject to scientific discovery and re-evaluation since you last looked at them) introduction to a deep, immensely interesting topic.

I’m going to guess that Ms Lernin and Ronnie make one more appearance in the Earth Before Us series, as there’s still the Cenozoic Era to explore. Ronnie loves the cute critters, I can’t wait to see what she loves in the Age Of Horns, or how she feels about the now-extinct glyptodont (giant armadillos) and megatherium (ground-dwelling enormo-sloths³).

In the meantime, I will revisit Ocean Renegades! on a regular basis, and provide copies to kids (of every age) that have an interest in giant extinct animals (also trilobites, which were not large but very, very cool and supremely successful in their eco-niche for about 250 million years) that didn’t have to do what mom & dad said because they were HUGE and therefore AWESOME.

Spam of the day:

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You had me with the free fox, but lost me at the end. Don’t presume to tell me what I will or will not regret, spammer scum!

¹ I caught one error, where a time period was misidentified in terms of how many millions of years ago it was. 4xx should have been 3xx. Confusing for a moment, but any kids reading will likely figure it out for themselves and learn the valuable lesson that even grownups can make mistakes.

² I love you, :01 Books, but you need to include some phonetics in your Science Comics series.

³ And the reason we have avocados. Think about it — that pit? That’s the seed. Ain’t nothing that snacks on an avocado that’s going to carry the seed to new territory unless it’s big enough to a) swallow the avocado whole, and b) poop out the pit a couple days and several kilometers later. Only megatherium is that large, the correct kind of herbivorous, and in the right place/right time to spread avocados up and down what’s now Central America as they migrated into North America a million years ago. Thanks, extinct giant ground sloths!

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