Jeffrey Brown has received a lot of attention from the comics community for his autobiographical comics and, more recently, his Eisner award-winning kid-friendly re-imaginings of the Star Wars universe.

His newest work, Lucy and Andy Neanderthal, is also a re-imagining, but of a different sortit recreates the trials and tribulations of a typical Neanderthal cave unit from thousands of years ago. The reader meets siblings Lucy and Andy, their baby brother Danny, the neighbor Mr. Daryl, and Mr. Daryl’s children, Phil and Margaret. Along with episodes from their daily Neanderthal lives, the work cuts to the present day, where two archaeologists are explaining the available evidence to infer and imagine what Neanderthal life was actually like.

I commend Jeffrey Brown for imagining a new sub-genre of graphic non-fiction, a sub-genre I’ll temporarily call “Claims Built Upon Evidence” until somebody else comes up with a better title or something that sounds less straight out of the Common Core Standards. Speaking of Common Core, because Brown’s work is so clearly delineated between the depictions of Neanderthal life (the claims) and the end-of-chapter discussions between the archaeologists (the evidence), This piece would be a welcome teaching addition to middle and high school English and social studies classroom. Students can read this book and determine where Lucy and Andy’s life hews closely to archaeological record—like evidence that Neanderthal herded prey off of cliffsand where Jeffrey Brown takes creative licensesuch as suggesting that Lucy loved to draw scenes with animals, whereas evidence that Neanderthal created paintings with animals is scant.

While this book gives readers some food for thought, it doesn’t present a story to follow. Even some of the ongoing subplots from chapter to chapter, like Andy’s crush on the charmless Margaret and Lucy’s search for appreciation, come to an abrupt closure at the end of the book with no resolution. 

For a book that seems to pride itself on research and rigor, some readers may be frustrated with some of the creative license used even in the light plot. For example, the 40,000-year-old creatures around age 12 have the behavioral antics and priorities of today’s white, middle class teens and tweens. Perhaps Jeffrey Brown wanted to make these characters relatable, but aren’t they interesting because their lives are so different from our own? Some readers may also balk at some of the anachronisms that seem accidental rather than purposeful. For example, at one point, one of the characters refers to months, even though the invention of the month as a concept was about 38,000 years into the future.

Whereas Jeffrey Brown’s signature art style of casually drawn comics, where the lettering is a little messy and the panel borders are freehand, has added a wry and ironic touch in his other comics, here the art has little added value to the story and is, at times, detrimental. I had a difficult time telling Margaret apart from her brother, Phil, until I realized that one had freckles and one did not.

If we’re meant to laugh at Lucy and Andy, their escapades aren’t funny enough to be laughed at. What Jeffrey Brown does do well here, though, is to place historical asides and interjections outside the frame, so that the reader can appreciate the historical and archaeological evidence without interrupting the flow of the story. Given Jeffrey Brown’s fame, I’m sure this title will receive a lot of attention and I hope it inspires a generation of comic artists who want to also try a “Claims Built Upon Evidence” work. I also hope that comic artists use this work as a primer in what can go wrong with such an ambitious project.

Lucy & Andy Neanderthal
by Jeffrey Brown
ISBN: 9780385388351
Random House, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: (8-12)

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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