By Frank Cammuso
144 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books
One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about the increasing number of all-ages comics is that I’m seeing more and more talented creators launching books and series under its aegis. So, for example, when Frank Cammuso has a new graphic novel series from Scholastic Books that mixes junior high drama with Arthurian myths, I’m excited. Sure, I’m not the target audience, but when the book is this much fun that really isn’t a problem at all.
Artie King and his family have just moved to a new town, and that means a new school—Camelot Middle School. If his older sister Morgan wasn’t trouble enough, Artie almost instantly runs into Joe and the Horde, the bullies that rule the hallways of Camelot. Can Artie and his friends avoid suspension and the baleful eye of Principal Dagger? Will science teacher Mr. Merlyn steer Artie towards victory? Can Artie open the fabled locker that is supposed to bring a leader to the students of Camelot? And most importantly, how will they ever survive the dodgeball tournament?
For a book that’s just 144 pages long, it’s more than a little surprising at how much story Cammuso can pack into just one volume. In my brief description, there are still a lot of characters and situations that I didn’t even begin to touch on, but at the same time Cammuso’s managed to get them all in there without feeling rushed. I really like the setting that we have for Knights of the Lunch Table; it’s not just the school, but local places like the arcade and the underground sewer tunnels. Likewise, there are a lot of characters once you move out of Artie’s immediate social circle and include all of the supporting cast. Some are better fleshed out than others, but it’s also just the first book in a series.
The merging of Arthurian legend and modern day junior high works remarkably well. It helps that Cammuso isn’t beholden to everything that happened in the original stories, picking and choosing what he wants to use in Knights of the Lunch Table. So for instance, Artie does have a nemesis in the form of older sister Morgan, but unlike King Arthur and Morgan Le Fay, I don’t think we have to worry about them conceiving little baby Mordred. My favorite change, easily, has to be swapping out the Sword in the Stone for a locker that no one can open. The basic thrust is still the same—an unmovable object that is untouchable until touched by its proper master—but not only does it remove edged weapons from a junior high setting, but there’s nothing more iconic about those years in school than a locker. Cammuso gets a lot of use out of it, too, letting it operate as a deus ex machina when needed, but thankfully never making things too easy for Artie. Like a lot of books aimed at younger readers, Artie goes through his own journey here, telling a lie early on in an effort to fit in, then eventually having to own up to it. It’s predictable, but it’s done with a lot of charm; it’s something that both younger and older readers can appreciate.
Just like his art in Otto’s Orange Day, Cammuso draws an attractive looking book in Knights of the Lunch Table. Artie and his friends are drawn with a crisp, simple style. Some elements are slightly exaggerated for comedic effect (especially the members of the Horde), but it’s never ludicrous or over the top. I also appreciated that in many ways this is a colorblind book; for a book that regularly uses non-white characters, there’s never a big deal made about the fact. Best of all, there are lots of little details in the backgrounds of the art. Savage’s throne being an armchair on top of 24-packs of soda, for instance, or the beautiful orange leaves of autumn that surround the entrance to the sewer and are all over the place.
Full of funny little jokes that fly left and right (Hadrian’s Mall had me in hysterics) but accessible to those who have read both lots or no stories of the British Isles, Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles is a real treat, and another winner for Scholastic. Hopefully it won’t be too long until a second volume, because I’m already on board and waiting.
Purchase Links: Amazon.com