Salt Water Taffy Vol. 1: The Legend of Old Salty

By Matthew Loux
96 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

When I was a child, one of my favorite books to check out from the library was what I’ve come to think of as, “children’s vacation adventure.” It’s a book where the main characters are school children off on a trip (often but not always their summer vacation), where what may seem to be a boring place turns out to be anything but. It’s a tried and true set-up, in no small part because the reader more often than not can project themselves into the same situation, wishing that their less-than-exciting vacation suddenly was full of magical creatures and items. I know that over the years, books like Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone or Edward Eager’s Magic by the Lake grabbed my attention quite firmly on many a long trip. Matthew Loux is using that same basis for his new graphic novel series Salt Water Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny. And you know, I can’t help but think that kids will be just entranced by Loux’s graphic novel as I was by my books back in the day.

Jack and Benny are being forced to spend their entire summer in Chowder Bay, Maine, because their parents think it will be fun. With no television and the batteries in Jack’s Gameboy rapidly running down, this looks like it might be the worst vacation ever. Then Jack and Benny see a mysterious shape sliding across the beach—could it be a bear? Or something far stranger and more deadly? When they meet local fisherman Angus O’Neil, he’s more than happy to tell them about the mysterious Old Salty lurking below the ocean’s waves. And that’s just the start of the trouble…

Salt Water Taffy is a book that could be used almost as a lesson in how to properly pace a story. Not a single one of its 96 pages are wasted; it starts by introducing Jack, Benny, and their family, then slowly expands outwards to bring the town of Chowder Bay, its inhabitants, the children’s ally, and finally their nemesis into the greater picture. Because Loux introduces them one at a time, it never feels rushed or like exposition is being dumped on the reader; at the same time, it moves along at a fast enough clip that at no point did I ever feel like Salt Water Taffy was dragging. The story itself is a lot of fun, fighting lobsters and solving the mystery of missing salt water taffy, while simultaneously adding in new and strange things to be explored in later volumes. (There’s a fantastic reveal towards the end of the first book involving a stranger in town that is just screaming for seeing more of, and soon.) There’s a moment about halfway through the book when Jack’s mother offers up new batteries for the Gameboy, and Jack instead rushes off in search of more real-world adventure, and you absolutely understand why he does so—Salt Water Taffy is fun, pure and simple.

Loux’s art is nicely attractive, with thick, sharp, angular ink lines that carefully outline each character. It’s a neat look; sure, people’s elbows don’t really come to a fine point but under Loux’s brush it seems very natural and cool. It’s a good way to draw his cast; everyone’s got very expressive faces, and Loux seems to delight in having Jack and Benny leap across the page from one panel to the next. With this much energy in the art, it’s easy to see why the book feels like it moves at such a good clip. I also really like the attention to detail in the backgrounds of the book, from the individual floorboards and decorations in the taffy shop to the rocks and grasses dotting the shoreline, it helps Chowder Bay really come to life for the reader. I must say, though, that looking at the color cover makes me kind of wish that this book was all in color. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the black and white end product—but there’s something about the cover that just grabs my attention so much more that I’m now dying to see a full color book by Loux.

When I finished reading Salt Water Taffy Vol. 1: The Legend of Old Salty, my first thought was, “I can’t believe it’s already over!” My second thought was, “Then again, a lot did happen in just this installment.” Loux packs a lot of fun into this book, and with each new twist and turn it just gets more and more entertaining. You’ll read it quickly not because it’s short, but rather because it’s hard to not want to read it as fast as you can… so that you can go back to the first page and start all over again. Fun, fun, fun from start to finish. More, please.

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