I’ve been hearing the name Lewis Trondheim recently, usually with good comments about his work, so I decided to check out one of his graphic novels. I picked up Astronauts of the Future with no expectations. I finished reading it as a fan of Trondheim.
This is a deceptively simple tale of Martina, an elementary school-age girl who is convinced that everyone around her is a robot. Everyone else is predictable, she says, as she wins yet another game of checkers against yet another student. She is by far the smartest and most creative kid she knows, which only helps to reinforce her opinion. One day she meets Gilbert Halibut. Gilbert not only claims he isn’t a robot, but he claims to be an astronaut, a war machine sent to exterminate hostile aliens. Naturally, the pair quickly become inseparable friends, going on adventures together to try to uncover the great conspiracy that rules their world. The pair, along with Gilbert’s kid sister, try all kinds of schemes to destroy the conspiracy, until their story takes an unexpected twist and everything goes in an entirely different direction.
To say I was shocked at the twist would be an understatement. My jaw dropped when the twist happened, and I actually gasped in surprise. It happens in such a completely unexpected, matter-of-fact way that the moment feels a little unreal, even in the context of the story. However, it fits the story beautifully, casting all that happened before the moment in a completely different light. After that twist, the story continues with even more twists and turns that seem unexpected while also seeming completely logical in the context of the story.
A lot of the credit for selling the story has to go to artist Larcenet. His style looks like a more polished and professional version of art that a child might draw. With such a deceptively simple style, Larcenet gives the reader the feeling that the story is being seen through the eyes of the story’s main characters. Even when horrific things are happening in the story, Larcenet’s art retains a lightness and charm that keeps things from getting too intense or scary.
Trondheim’s writing is a wonderful match for the art. He has a nice ear for the way that kids talk, and he was a wonderfully witty style. I’m not sure if he’s better known as a writer or artist, but his writing skills are certainly well shown off here.
Astronauts of the Future is a really fun and exciting all-ages comic book. Adults will love the nuances that the creative team bring to the story, while teens and tweens will identify with the dilemmas that Martina and Gilbert face. I was really very pleasantly surprised by this graphic novel.