Carol, Mitchell, Rosario, and Jarvis are the Creeps: a group of friends dedicated to investigating the monster attacks and unnatural occurrences that plague their home of Pumpkins County, even if no one else in the community acknowledges these dangers or the ensuing property damage. The second volume of Chris Schweizer’s middle grade horror series takes place outdoors, validating your concern that invisible monsters are out to get you, even when you’re trying to work on on a school project. The art is brighter, zanier, and more explosive than before, and it’s a joy to see the Creeps running around their extended community. Even when they’re being pursued by a monstrous beast who smells like garbage.
In their last adventure, the Creeps narrowly escaped being lobotomized by their science teacher. This time, invisible trolls are inciting panic in Pumpkins County, with the goal of eating the community at large. A disabled conspiracy theorist/former troll-hunter provides semi-helpful advice (as well as sideways commentary on body odor) before detonating a deodorant bomb, and a more mundane but no less upsetting case of cyber-bullying rears its ugly head.
As it turns out, trolls feed on conflict and stress. There is plenty of that going around in Pumpkins County, especially since the current school project requires students to spend time outdoors. Unfortunate side effect: several schoolchildren are eaten, leaving their study partners with an unfair workload. Defeating trolls requires problem solving, friendship, habanero goat cheese pizza, bike safety, and lock picks. If you’re Jarvis, pants are optional—but exploding pants can and will save a life.
The second installment of the series moves more quickly than the first, and is hugely entertaining. The art is more dynamic, the color palette more vivid, and the characters are joyfully over-the-top; Carol in particular is a delight. I haven’t seen a character so offended by reality since Calvin and Hobbes retired. In volume one, the artwork depicted a series of underground labs; volume two opens up with intricately detailed junkyards and a thriving downtown area. This expansion makes the setting feel more grounded, and provides a better background for the absolute absurdity that Schweizer’s plots contain. This is especially notable because the Creeps cover a lot of physical ground in The Trolls Will Feast!, most of it on bicycles. I was very happy to see that all four of the protagonists observed bike safety protocols, partly because the series is targeted at younger children, and partly because Schweizer’s storytelling it at its best when the heroes face consequences for their actions.
Schweizer’s handling of cyber-bullying and schoolyard politics manages to portray a message of kindness and tolerance without feeling preachy. It also incorporates neatly with the rampaging monster section of the storyline, which makes for a more cohesive reading experience.
The publisher recommends this series for ages 8-12, though it may appeal to slightly older readers as well. The horror elements are more slapstick than they are gory, and while the humor veers towards juvenile (see: exploding pants), it doesn’t seem lewd or gross. I think reluctant readers who don’t feel like Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants quite make the grade will really enjoy this middle-school ensemble story, especially since the conflict is intelligent without becoming mean-spirited. Readers who enjoy Adventure Time and Lumberjanes will also likely relish this series, which continues in September with Curse of the Attack-o-Lanterns.
The Creeps, vol 2: The Trolls Will Feast!
by Chris Schweizer
Harry N. Abrams, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12