Flight Explorer Vol. 1

By Matthew Armstrong, Bannister, Phil Craven, Steve Hamaker, Ben Hatke, Kazu Kibuishi, Johane Matte, Jake Parker, Rad Sechrist, and Kean Soo
112 pages, color
Published by Villard Books

The Flight anthologies are always books that I look forward to, full of stories that spark the imagination and bring a sense of wonder to the page. When I heard that an all-ages edition of Flight, called Flight Explorer, was set to come out I was both excited and worried. On the one hand, the Flight books have always been full of top-notch material. But would a deliberate attempt to go exclusively all-ages somehow hinder the creators? Like so many worries about upcoming books, there are times when I seriously wonder why I don’t just accept in advance that people know what they’re doing.

One of the first things I noticed about Flight Explorer was that there isn’t a dud story in the book. While some of the ten entries are stronger than others, at no time did I ever finish a story and think that it didn’t belong. In anything but the smallest of anthologies, finding that level of success rate is really impressive, and my proverbial hat is off to the Flight crew for keeping that high level of quality going. That said, though, I do think there are some gems that stick out above the rest. These stories, to me, were not merely good but managed to make me want to see more, and quickly.

By Kazu KibuishiKazu Kibuishi’s full-length graphic novel Amulet a few months ago was a dark, slightly creepy, exciting story. It’s nice to get a reminder here that he’s equally good at lighter fare such as “Copper: Mushroom Crossing.” In many ways this story to me epitomizes the whole Flight experience; it’s fantastical, it’s something that is both familiar and yet different to our own world, and there’s a genuine sense at the end of the story that you’ve somehow been to this place. It’s a little surprising on how an eight-page story can do just that, but Kibuishi nails it with flying colors. It helps that it’s not just the story itself that creates this feeling, but Kibushi’s beautiful, iconic art; I love his sense of a color palette, and how he can bring something as both simple and amazing as a ravine full of gigantic mushrooms look so beautiful.

By Kean SooAlso of particular note to me was Kean Soo’s new story “Jellaby: First Snow.” Having recently moved Jellaby to a graphic novel format, Soo’s story of a young girl and her dragon is fun to read, and this latest entry is no exception to that rule. What I think really sank the story home for me is that Soo is able to make snow both matter-of-fact and also amazing by showing it to us through the eyes both of Portia and Jellaby. Portia certainly sees both the fun (throwing snowballs) and the annoyance (getting it down the front of your pants) that comes with snow, but it’s Jellaby’s awe and reaction that is the perfect counterbalance to what we already know. I love how Soo draws Jellaby gingerly tapping the surface of the snow with his foot, and the glee as Jellaby retaliates to Portia’s snowball is infectious. It’s the final panel, though, that really tugged at my heartstring. Emotionally manipulative? Perhaps. The perfect ending? Absolutely.

By Ben HatkeLast but not least, the other two stories that really grabbed my attention were Jake Parker’s “Missile Mouse: The Guardian Prophecy” and Ben Hatke’s “Zita the Spacegirl: If Wishes Were Socks.” These two stories were a little heavier on plot rather than a mere sense of wonder or a brief vignette, but they both were extremely well done. Parker’s story has just that right mix of adventure and a lesson to be learned; with the former, it kept my interest and was fun and slightly exciting, which is just what a reader of any age will want in an adventure story. Even better, when it came to the “lesson” of the story, I never felt like it was pushed down the reader’s throat or felt overly intrusive; rather, it’s simply part of the greater whole and as such it works really well. That’s also true with Hatke’s story, but in this case with an added sense of humor. Hatke’s usage of an old smelly sock as a wishing device is pure genius, and I absolutely love the way that Zita and her friends learn the folly of their wish as they’re chased around by what could best be described as their warped counterparts. Robot Randy being chased around by his other half is hysterical (especially with the “scrigga scrigga” and “schlup schlup” sound effects) thanks to the visuals, and Hatke’s art style with its shaky lines just grabbed my attention almost immediately.

That’s not to say that the other entries in the book aren’t good, of course. I genuinely enjoyed them all, and while there are some with slight tweaks that I’d make (I’d have loved to see Rad Sechrist’s story run another two pages, in part because I was almost instantly taken by it and then sad that it ended so quickly!), there’s not a bad apple in the bunch. Flight Explorer Vol. 1 is another tremendous success for the Flight series; it’s got great stories that just about everyone should love, and such beautiful art to illustrate them. If every all-ages book was this strong, well, we’d all be very lucky indeed. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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