Monday, June 18, 2018

Two From Toon: Ivan Brunetti and Jordan Crane

Toon Books has a fairly uninterrupted run of quality, especially with regard to their younger readers' books. Some of the longer-form comics aimed at teens haven't quite hit the mark, but artists who have a strong design sense tend to excel in their slim hardcover format, even if they hadn't done stuff for kids prior to this. Two recent books are from two of the best designers and illustrators in comics: Ivan Brunetti and Jordan Crane. Twenty years ago, it was hard to picture Ivan Brunetti doing children's books and Jordan Crane working for a major publisher, but there you go.

Brunetti's 3x4 is aimed at Toon Books Level One, meaning emerging readers. He had previously done a book called Wordplay for Toon, which used a similar device of conceptualizing the topic from a purely visual standpoint and then explaining it using words as well. Right on the cover, Brunetti explains the basics of multiplication with the book's star, Annemarie, headlining three different rows but also being part of four different columns of images. The book hammers home the conceptual quality of multiplication, as a number that adds up items in rows and columns. The book itself is about a classroom assignment regarding multiplication, as Brunetti doubles down again and again to keep the focus on the fundamentals established at the start. He carefully breaks down various kinds of sets in a running gag, making it easy to remember. Brunetti keeps the background colors muted so as not to interfere with the objects on each page. They're crucial because Brunetti has to highlight those in order get the concept across to young readers. Brunetti also has a slow build-up of kids trying to one-up each other with the assignment, with Annemarie emerging with the most ambitious drawing of all. A nice side note regarding the book is how many of the characters in the book are people of color. It's simply a matter-of-fact detail that goes unspoken, yet it speaks volumes.

Design king Crane's We Are All Me is deceptively simple. Another Level One book, there's just a few words of text on each page. However, the book is conceptually complex, as Jordan asks the reader to shift their perspective multiple times. He starts out exploring our relationship with the environment as the pages bleed into each other in terms of color. Air, water and earth flow into one another as smoothly as Crane's crisp color patterns. There's just a joyous rhythm to this comic, both in terms of visuals and words, like the lines "and bone and meat/and beat beat beat". Flipping over to the heart with the last line, there's an explosion of pink, orange, and blue on the page as Crane went in the opposite direction, going smaller and smaller until he reaches the subatomic level. Crane goes beyond that to make some interesting claims regarding sentience arising at that level and that all of it (and us) are connected. Heady stuff, but Crane clearly respects his audience enough to think them capable of understanding it conceptual. Thanks to his bold and dynamic use of color, he's right to think so. 

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