Andrews McMeel produces a wide range of both long-running comic strips, like Phoebe and Unicorn and Big Nate, collections from older and more obscure strips, and an interesting variety of more recent strips, including Will & Henry and now Crabgrass, which began appearing in papers in 2022.
This collection introduces the two main characters, Miles and Kevin, who join up as best friends when Miles moves into the neighborhood, despite their differences. Miles is Black and his family is middle class. While they are not “helicopter” parents, they have definite expectations and rules for Miles and he himself is comfortable with this more structured environment. Kevin, whose father is largely absent, lives in a rambunctious, low-income household with his long-suffering mother, teenage brother, twin sister, and baby sibling. He casually mentions to Miles at their first meeting that his previous friend wasn’t allowed to play with him because his family was “too poor” and his mom is working with limited resources. Kevin is the Calvin of their Calvin & Hobbes friendship, happier out of school than in, and causing havoc wherever he goes while Miles is the voice of reason (or at least the voice of concern) and is both intrigued and sometimes disgusted by Kevin’s hijinks. With rare breaks for introspection, the two play pranks, argue, get into trouble, explore the outdoors, and live a contemporary version of the idyllic suburban childhood.
Bondia, a Black cartoonist from Kentucky, has a great sense of comedic timing as well as a wonderful sense of characterization that helps him fill his strip with instantly recognizable characters. Their faces are all heavily expressive; the adults tend to have smaller eyes and frequently show their exasperation with an eyeroll or exasperated closed eyes. One of the fun parts of the comic is showing how the adults, as well as the kids, form friendships despite their differences. Some of my favorite sequences show Kevin’s mom, dangling a cigarette as she clues Miles’ mom into the facts of life of being a single mother of four.
The kids have huge eyes, which are useful in showing their more caricature-like expressions; Miles usually wears a worried frown and habitually wears red t-shirts with stars on them. He also shows wide-eyed innocence when Kevin pulls tricks or shocks him with revelations from his own life (like baths being for babies?!) Kevin has a mop of longish red hair and is always dressed in a sleeveless white undershirt, of varying cleanliness. He has some streetwise smarts, but is less strong on academics, glaring in suspicion at Miles when he suggests reading a book or produces an odd fact. Excepting Miles and his family, all the adults and kids shown are white.
The author has said the strip is based on his own family and friends from the 1980s, but it fits easily into a contemporary setting in a quasi-rural area. Despite being (apparently) the only Black family in town, Miles’ family meets with a general air of acceptance and Bondia’s philosophy seems to be encapsulated in a conversation between the two boys when Kevin asks if they would be less likely to be friends if there were more Black kids in town and Miles responds “I was friends with all kinds of kids in my old neighborhood.” Kevin agrees, saying “I just figure why not be friends with whoever is the most fun?” which quickly devolves into whether they’d ever be friends with a girl.
While readers who want a more serious-minded strip about the experiences of Black youth in predominantly white settings will do better to turn to Jerry Craft’s graphic novels, this comic strip fills a different niche, showing Black kids as the main characters in funny stories. Kids might pause to think occasionally, but mostly they’ll just laugh and enjoy the humor and hijinks of the characters and even adults may take a moment to snicker over a particularly wacky moment.
By Tauhid Bondia
Andrews McMeel, 2022
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Black, Character Representation: Black,