Astronaut Elementary, volumes 1–3
By David Roman
Cryptic Press, not rated
$3 per volume
About two years ago, both my daughters were really into Nickelodeon magazine, to the point that I had to buy two copies of each issue. When I read it myself, I understood why—the magazine was full of the same kid-friendly subversive humor that attracted me to Mad magazine and the Garbage Pail Kids when I was a kid.
Dave Roman, who is an associate editor at Nickelodeon, has filled the three Astronaut Elementary mini-manga with that same cheeky humor, but he has channeled it into a series of more-or-less linear episodes about a motley crew of kids at a school in outer space.
Reading these, I get the sense that Roman is still a kid at heart. These books are filled with smart-alecky comments and crazy characters that would certainly ring true on most playgrounds. There’s the misfit Doug Hiro, who is so enamored of space walking that he never takes off his helmet; snotty rich girl, Maribell Melonbelly; Miyumi San, who has a crush on her elfin science teacher; and the heroic but clueless Hakata Soy, who once saved a planet full of bunnies by joining with his friends to become a giant Transformer. In volume 2, a robot named Cybert arrives with the express mission of destroying Hakata Soy but gets hilariously derailed by the school routine and a session with the guidance counselor. One rather manga-esque character is Spike Johanson, who unabashedly likes vintage clothing and cute boys. Astronaut Elementary is a webcomic, and it shows in the structure: Each brief chapter focuses on a single character, with a loose narrative thread running through each volume.
Roman’s touch gets surer in each volume. In volume 1, the panels are crowded and sometimes hard to follow, and the characters speak in a stilted manner that is too obviously trying to be funny. In volume 2, he shifts to a more natural diction, and in volume 3 he opens up the page a bit more with bigger panels and less crowding. There’s a lovely sequence in that book, in which the school is evacuated and all the students are floating in space. Doug Hiro starts to connect with his classmates for just a moment, but then they all take off again and he loses himself in the starry backdrop of outer space. That spread alone is worth the price of admission.
The style of these books is closer to indy comics than most manga, and the storylines and characters remind me a bit of Amelia Rules, only zanier. But it’s not any less like manga than some of Tokyopop’s global titles. You can read the stories for free at Roman’s website, but the mini-manga are nicely produced (especially volume 3) and would be great stocking stuffers for kids or grownups who haven’t lost that youthful attitude.
This review is based on complimentary copies supplied by the author.