My advice to all children’s comic book authors is to only cover one issue per issue.
NewsPrints by Ru Xu is about a newsboy for the Nautilene Bugle named Blue who begins the book in the middle of a turf war with the Grundy Gazette. Blue’s real name is Lavender Blue, and she became an orphan after an ongoing vicious war with Grimmaea took both of her parents. She has to keep her female identity a secret because without it, she could lose her job and her livelihood. There is also the ethical issue of the Nautilene Bugle being owned by Mayor Aric Nancy and his wife, who sits on the editorial board. And we haven’t even come to the center of the story yet, which surrounds Blue’s acquaintance with an inventor type named Jack, a mysterious loner named Crow, and an old friend journalist who wants to hunt down a good story.
All of these topics are interesting and worthy of exploration in their own right, but when they appear jammed together in a single volume, they undermine each others’ emotional heft. The reader isn’t given much opportunity to reflect on Blue’s reliance on the Bugle for money and a semblance of family or the emotional impact of her ongoing facade as a male before another plot point swoops in.
Xu’s strength here is a visual style that screams steampunk. The color palette is decidedly vintage, filled with washed-in blues, purples, and pales that are as playful as they are immersive and imaginative. The panels are deliciously varied, with some full page spreads, some panels disobeying the margins, and some coming in at an angle. The dialogue keeps the story moving, and Xu doesn’t make the rookie mistake of cramming too much dialogue on a page, which keeps this story moving at a brisk pace.
But there’s a fine line between a brisk pace and a rush, and here the plot feels rushed. After we establish some neat ideas about the role of an independent and impartial news source and the complicated ethics of war, Xu brings in a late-stage Frankenstein narrative and asks readers to think more about free will, noble lies, and intent versus outcome. It’s a lot to ask for a children’s book that’s barely 200 comic book pages.
I hope that the next volume of NewsPrints slows down the story so the readers can pause to mull over some of these big ideas.
by Ru Xu
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12