Written by Nadja Spiegelman
Art by Trade Loeffler
40 pages, color
Published by Toon Books
I adore the Toon Books line, a series of slim books for younger readers that merge comics and children’s books into a single entity. So now, every time there’s a new publication on the horizon, I found myself eager to read it for myself. In the case of the new Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework, what I wasn’t expecting to find was a slightly educational story starring two aliens. But the more I read it, the more I find myself enjoying it.
It’s a fairly simple plot; Zig is an alien who (thanks to his robotic pal Wikki) gets lost on his way to his grandmother’s home. Winding up on Earth, they decide to kill two birds with one stone and look for an animal to take back home and be part of the class zoo at Zig’s school. It sounds simple enough, until they actually leave the spaceship and the reader discovers that Zig and Wikki are at most several inches high. It was around that moment that I found myself fully charmed by the book; Zig and Wikki shows rather than tells in moments like that, letting the reader understand the situation that the characters themselves wouldn’t necessarily understand.
Nadja Spiegelman’s script brings Zig and Wikki through a small food chain, starting with a fly and then working its way up to a raccoon. It’s a fairly linear progression as it introduces younger readers to the idea that each animal depends on a different one in order to survive. It’s presented very matter-of-factly, without any lamenting the deaths of the smaller creatures but instead looking at it on a scientific basis. It’s a surprising tactic but one that I approve of; this is on some level a science lesson, and rather than get caught up in the emotion of the scenes we continue to move forward in the learning process. To aid that goal, Wikki’s forehead displays facts from time to time, letting the reader (and Zig) understand about each of the four different species that appear in Zig and Wikki.
Zig and Wikki is illustrated by Trade Loeffler, in his first print work. It’s a nice debut, as he balances the strange appearance of Zig with a realistic approach to the animals that show up throughout the book. He has a strong understanding of basic comic storytelling, something that is critical in a publication for younger readers. Each panel is solidly constructed and has a lot of background detail as well, giving the reader something to look at while the overall structure moves you from one to the next. I especially like how he draws Zig, though; a one-eyed, tentacle-armed creature could have looked grotesque, but instead he’s rather adorable. Whenever he rescues Wikki, there’s such a sense of relief on his face that you get a strong sense of his friendship with Wikki, despite (or perhaps because of) the trouble they get into with one another.
Toon Books has another success with Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework. It’s fun and informative, that prized double-header of children’s literature. The format is durable enough, for that matter, that Spiegelman and Loeffler could easily create dozens of Zig and Wikki books on all sorts of subjects. (A book on the solar system seems like a natural, but the possibilities are literally endless.) With Toon Books’ usual impeccable production design, this is a slick looking book that I think parents will be eager to give to their children. Fortunately, Zig and Wikki is the sort of book that children will be eager to read. Definitely worth picking up for the younger reader in your life.