Sunday, June 3, 2012

Short Take: The Shark King, R. Kikuo Johnson

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Comics have had a deserved reputation as trash for most of their history. The adult-targeted graphic-novel movement of the last 30 years has done a good deal to change that. One hopes children-oriented efforts such as the Toon Books line will succeed as well. The capacity of comics for teaching children reading skills has always been apparent. The goal of the Toon Books line is to give them comics worth reading to learn with. R. Kikuo Johnson’s The Shark King, geared for second- and third-graders, succeeds admirably in this regard. The book is a beautifully executed comics dramatization of a Hawaiian folk tale about Nanaue, a young boy born of a shark-god father and a human mother. It tells of his efforts to fit in with people in his mother's fishing community. It ends with his embrace of his divine heritage. Johnson presents the story with humor, a lovely sense of pace, and superb art. He’s a remarkably elegant visual craftsman. The art is complexly conceived, with a fine sense of locale and character, but his sophistication is such that it is readable at a glance. This fun story is also an enjoyable introduction to traditional Hawaiian culture. It's a treat for younger and older readers alike.

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