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Salt Water Taffy
posted May 20, 2008
Oni Press, softcover, 96 pages, May 2008, $5.95
This is a charming little book on a lot of levels, with a killer price point, squarely in the all-ages storytelling tradition of "family in a strange setting." The family in this case is the Putnams, particularly 11-year-old Jack and 8-year-old Benny, and the setting is the far away, slightly odd port town of Chowder Bay, Maine. I tend to like summer vacation settings because of having experienced one of those places myself. Kids fill in the spaces that temporary communities spawn with all sorts of fantastic nonsense and myth-building, so to take one of those places and make the fictional overlay that might be generated by a pair of kids real instead of fanciful daydreaming seems like a natural thing to do to create this kind of setting.
The problems are that in terms of a narrative, there's very little that surprises here. The characters are familiar in a way that tells us exactly what kind of story we're in, but Loux plays it extremely straight when it comes to who believes what, who's telling the truth, and the way that truth unfolds. It always feels like we're in the middle of a very clever story instead of the even more delicious feeling of being lost in such a story that comes when the author takes a more independent path to world-building. Similarly, Loux is a very young cartoonists, and some of his stylizations seemed so heavy and overwrought to me that they took me out of the story being told. I'm thinking here of the angularity of some of the movements, which recall the jerking quality of video games and didn't seem to fit into the setting at all beyond it being a personal choice of the artist. I think Loux has more talent than to simply execute a genre exercise at a high level.