Written by Matthew Loux
Art by Matthew Loux and Brian Stone
96 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press
It’s nice to see a series you love come back after a hiatus, and to that list we can now add Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy. The first three volumes were a great bundle of all different sorts of fun, mixing the typical "summer adventure" genre with big crazy ideas. And after a little over a year and half, it’s even better to be able report that the new book is just as much fun as you remembered.
Salt Water Taffy: Caldera’s Revenge Part 1 is the first multi-volume story in Salt Water Taffy, and as a result Loux takes a slightly different storytelling approach than with his previous volumes in the series. While the earlier stories always had an attractive amount of showcasing all of the strangeness in Chowder Bay, that’s even more on display here. Loux has the extra room to open with the different sailors in the area talking about their encounters with weirdness (my favorite is Douglas Fjord’s story of tracking down the legendary Wandering Pine of Chowder Bay, which is indeed an ambulatory pine tree). It’s a great way to ease into the oddball tone of Salt Water Taffy, and remind you that this is a town where anything and everything can happen.
Even with an extended scene involving a picnic at the Putnam household (home to our heroes Jack and Benny) doesn’t detract, as Loux brings in both new characters as well as some of the stranger past ones (both hero and villain) in search of hot dogs and chicken salad. But inevitably, the plot kicks into gear as it always does, almost by accident as Jack and Benny discover a stranded giant squid in Chowder Bay, and things just keep rolling from there. Like the adventures for teenagers novels that Salt Water Taffy feels inspired by, there’s a relaxed attitude about the comic; strange things happen and the characters just roll with it. It’s part of the appeal that Loux infuses into his story, because rather than spend time freaking out the characters just calmly take the next logical step. Talking giant squid? Offer it some hot dogs, of course. And with each new moment of strangeness, Loux ups the ante for the next encounter.
Speaking of upped ante, Loux does just that with his art for Caldera’s Revenge. I’ve liked his art in the past, with the thick, angular, sharp-edged ink lines that form the characters. There’s something about the way he draws them that makes me feel like they’ve almost been cut like a paper doll and grafted to the page, save for the fact that they feel like they move in an animated and energetic fashion. And for the existing characters, we still get that same look, although with time Loux’s gotten even better. But when it comes to the sea scenes, well, that’s where Loux pulls a new trick out of his sleeve. I love how the whale Caldera looks like a woodcut, erupting out of an old edition of Moby Dick. His characters are always so crisp and clean that it’s almost surprising to see one with such fine and textured detail appear in the world of Salt Water Taffy. It’s a look that also is matched in the mysterious 19th century sailing ship that pursues Caldera, and its ragged sails and worn wood planks seem to have followed Caldera right out of that other book. It’s a smart looking addition to the world of Salt Water Taffy, and it was a great way to use a visual to surprise the reader.
With the extra space due to the story spanning two volumes, Loux also has room for a back-up story starring Dan the Wolf (the villain from Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mount Barnabas). It’s a fun piece, running concurrently with the main story, as Dan tries to scheme his way into the Putnam family picnic (and perhaps eat someone, if not at the very least all of those delicious hot dogs). In some ways it will remind you of the old Warner Brothers cartoons starring Wile E. Coyote, as his hapless attempts seem to just land him in progressively more trouble. (Lest the reader feel too bad for Dan, though, Loux helpfully reminds us that the reason why he’s not invited to the picnic is because he’ll try to eat someone.) It’s drawn by Brian Stone, whose art sports the same clean look as Loux’s, although with rounder edges to his figures. I love how Stone draws Dan’s hangdog expression, and it’s a good addition to the book.
Salt Water Taffy: Caldera’s Revenge Part 1 is a great return to the series by Loux, and a fun comic in general. It’s great to see Salt Water Taffy return; this is one of the few all-ages titles that genuinely is enjoyable for all ages to read. Be warned, though, if you’re a new reader. By the time you’re done, you’ll want to read all the other Salt Water Taffy books to date. This comic is a blast and a half, and so long as Loux creates more Salt Water Taffy comics, I’ll keep reading them.