Stéphane Blanquet’s book may seem at first another “toys come alive” tale, but the immediate weirdness of his intricate artwork should signal that we have left conventionality behind, much like those busted toys of our youth. This ain’t Toy Story, bub. In fact, here be dragons and other terrible, horrifyingly-wonderful things. Initially, the story seems simple enough: a little boy and girl stray from a costume party and are mistaken for fellow broken toys by a cabal of abused playthings. The incognito humans are then led to a hidden world that the toys have created and, once the truth is discovered about the terrified tourists, all hell breaks loose. The story takes some distinctly dark turns, which may cause some to question whether children are an appropriate audience for this book, though there is nothing explicitly shocking or unsettling. This is merely a creative and interesting story that we don’t normally come across and, while I wouldn’t hesitate to put this in the hands of my children, there are certainly others who might.
Those who do pass up this book because of the unconventionality of the narrative’s premise (until the clichéd ending) will miss out on some truly stunning artwork. Blanquet is a master of the creepy and the cute, creating a dichotomy reminiscent of Mark Ryden’s paintings. Another reviewer has referred to the art as “adorably dangerous,” which is also apt. There’s a clustered sense of derangement and the initially-soothing colors soon become garish and over-the-top, adding a sense of surrealism and magic that makes reading the story feel like a trip to Oz.
Toys in the Basement was part of Fantagraphics editor Kim Thompson’s mission of celebrating masters of bande dessinée, the Franco-Belgian flavor of comics, and it ends with a brief essay by Kim on its history. Certainly, those unfamiliar with comics outside of North America would do well to pick this book up, as well as David B.’s The Littlest Pirate King, if they wish to explore the potential of the comics medium and start down the road of comics as art.
Toys in the Basement
by Stéphane Blanquet
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12