March 29, 2018


Written by Ian Boothby
Art by Nina Matsumoto
Color by David Debrick
Scholastic (Graphix)
200 pp.
Ages 7-10
February 2018

Knowing the universal acceptance of dogs as heroes, a cat named August invents a robotic dog suit in which he and feline friend Charlie undertake daring rescues like saving babies from wells, children from tornadoes, and families from fires. The suit also helps keep August from touching the grass (a major phobia since an escape outdoors as a kitten led him to nasty testing at an animal lab) and keeps the cats anonymous from prying reporters and those who might disturb their comfortable lifestyle. However, unbeknownst to them, an evil genius in the guise of a baby named Princess is setting up accidents that require the rescue dog dubbed Sparks to leap into action.  It seems Princess believes that Sparks might be the dog that other animals, under the baby's control, would follow, allowing the heinous alien-infant to conquer the world.
From Sparks! by Ian Boothby, art by Nina Matsumoto
Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto, best known as veteran creators of The Simpsons comics, will delight middle graders with this hilarious graphic novel of cats banding together to achieve heroic deeds and fighting an evil baby.  Readers will be tickled by all the characters: clever inventor August, who plays the stock market and buys a house; Charlie, who lives life with enthusiasm and has a fondness for frolicking and attention;  Steve-O, the hyper-chattering squirrel; and the storytelling robotic litter box.  Even Princess who transmits pain via agony pants worn by her pseudo-parent minions is priceless as the koala hat-wearing brain who still needs diaper changes and naps.  Princess is as controlling and scary as any human baby, albeit with creepier toys, and it's so satisfying when (spoiler!) her errant ways are chastized by her real parents.
From Sparks! by Ian Boothby, art by Nina Matsumoto
Sparks! is a fun read that fights stereotypes of cats being self-absorbed, dogs being the heroes, and babies being innocent and safe. Moreover, it provides a sad commentary on the media that creates stories, not just reports them, and the ease with which they manipulate the stories.  In fact, Sparks! is really a story that turns the concept of control on its head.  Of course, young readers might not pick up on all those messages from author Ian Boothby but they'll love the story and Nina Matsumoto's bold graphics that blend the real with the fantastic.  It's obvious Nina Matsumoto knows cats well (a photo of the real August and Charlie in the dedication attests to this).  She gets the joy of rolling in the grass or the pose of the classic butt-lick perfect but then gives an imaginative angle to the technological wizardry and provides vigorous splashes of action and disaster.  The compulsory Zzzzzap! and Ka-Pow with an occasional Ssshhlorp!, Fa-dunk and Sproing add that touch of comic book flavour that kids will enjoy.
From Sparks! by Ian Boothby, art by Nina Matsumoto
I'm pleased that Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto (who will be attending this year's Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May) have left the cat flap open for a sequel to Sparks! as I'm sure the amazing duo of August and Charlie have more acts of heroism on which to embark, whether as themselves or in the costume of their canine superhero.

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