Red Comet Press, a small publisher who has a carefully curated list of picture books with a few board books and graphic novel easy readers, Really Bird, is moving up another step with a new graphic novel series for beginning chapter readers.
Although there’s been an explosion of graphic novels for beginning readers, they have not yet really shifted into a broader range of genres, sticking closely to the classic easy reader format of the odd couple friends, pioneered by Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad and shifted to the graphic novel format by Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie. Gustav & Henri stays comfortable in this genre with the introduction of two complementary friends and their wacky adventures.
Gustav, a pig, and his dog friend Henri (short for Henrietta) are introduced to the reader with character profiles at the beginning of the story. Gustav is boastful, always snacking, and likes to wear hats. Henri is prepared for anything, very organized, and good at resolving conflict. When Gustav loses his shuttlecock, he decides they must go into space and instructs Henri to build a spaceship, designed like a pig, from his plans—but when they arrive on the moon they are faced with King Steve the Best, King of the Moon! In their second adventure, Cassandra the librarian shows up with terrifying news—Gustav has forgotten to return a library book and Henri’s library card will be permanently revoked! But what if they could go back in time? Will they be able to fix things? In their final adventure, the two friends set out to celebrate Pig Day and end up confronting all their previous enemies as well as a missing birthday cake! Can Gustav and Henri solve the mystery?
The art is in black and white, with spotlights of blue in speech bubbles, backgrounds, and a variety of random places. Gustav is shown as a tall, humanoid pig with a snout, single curl of hair, and insatiable desire for snacks. Henri seems content to be a follower, drawn a short figure in overalls with long floppy ears that look like curly hair, a retriever-like muzzle, and small black nose. She provides the logic and intelligence, building the machines Gustav asks for, providing information so he can “solve” problems, and acting as the voice of reason for his wilder flights of fancy. The layout is a mix of illustrated text, traditional comic panels, and a wild variety of fonts with plenty of onomatopoeia and silly exclamations like “By Santa’s trousers!”
There’s nothing particularly new or unique about this title, and the interactions between the two friends are frustrating to an adult reader, with Henri contributing most of the work while Gustav eats and comes up with wild ideas. However, it is humorous with lots of silly asides and wacky situations and the art is easy to follow with a simple color scheme. If libraries are filling in additional titles for their beginning chapter book collections, it is likely to be popular with readers who enjoy silly stories or have moved on from easy readers but still prefer the simple characters and “opposites attract” dynamic.
Gustav & Henri: Space Time Cake!, Vol. One
By Andy Matthews
Art by Peader Thomas
Red Comet Press, 2022
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)