Melanie is far from your ordinary eight-year-old. Sure, she does ordinary things like going to school and riding her scooter. But she’s also secretly Jetcat, the costumed super-powered protector of the city of Oddville. And boy, does Oddville need protecting. From mad scientists to gargantuan monkeys to diabolical mosquitoes bent on world domination, it seems like Oddville sits perpetually on the brink of destruction. But Jetcat is ever vigilant with her catch phrase (“Time to fly like a jet…and fight like a cat!”) and her superpowers to conquer all the challenges the bad guys can throw at her.
If Jetcat looks familiar to you, that’s because she’s been around since 1994 when she first appeared in the The Stranger, a weekly alternative paper based in Seattle. Since that time Jetcat and all the various characters of Oddville have appeared in numerous newspaper strips and collections, most notably the Eisner and Kurtzman nominated book The Land of Nod.
Originally published as a weekly full-color serial in the Toronto Star’s “Brand New Planet” section, Welcome to Oddville is an imaginatively funny, kid-friendly collection of wacky adventures all told in a short newspaper strip-style. Many of the stories finish in a page and those that do go on a little longer end within three pages, making it both fun to read straight through or to just pick up during odd moments.
The stories whiz by, bringing with them an almost endless supply of eccentric characters both good and evil. As it turns out, Jetcat’s greatest foe is not any of the dozens of super-powered villains that constantly threaten Oddville. Jetcat’s greatest challenge becomes Avery Ilk, Melanie’s new trouble-making stepbrother. Avery constantly plays mean pranks around town and blames Jetcat for inspiring him, ultimately causing Jetcat to be banned from the city.
Kids will find themselves immediately grabbed by the eye-popping art. The simplified but energetic character designs and radioactive colors recall popular cartoon series like The Powerpuff Girls as well as Stephens’s own successful cartoon series (Tutenstein and The Secret Saturdays). But it’s the stories, with a childlike imagination and spot-on comedic timing rivaling Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, that will keep kids reading. Just when you think Stephens couldn’t possibly have any more nutty ideas he charges in with a group of revolutionary apples or a floating green head of Boris Karloff, never giving even the most stubborn reader time to get bored.
Like all great cartoonists Stephens manages to work in enough layers to entertain adults as well as kids. Whether it’s background material like the fake advertisements sprinkled throughout the book, the wry, purposeful nostalgia or the subtle sense of design that holds many nods to Herriman’s Krazy Kat and Ignatz, there’s a lot here to entertain everyone from kids to casual readers to the biggest comics fans.
by Jay Stephens
Adhouse Books, 2011