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posted July 17, 2007
First Second, softcover, 208 pages, August 2007, $16.95.
9781596431089 (ISBN 13); 1596431083 (ISBN10)
Sara Varon's Robot Dreams
is one of the new breed of all-ages fables told in (mostly) anthropomorphic guise. A dog takes his robot friend to the beach in late summer. The robot becomes immobilized by the sun, and the dog, not quite sure what to do when this curious circumstance presents itself, abandons the robot. The bulk of the story is a back and forth between chapters featuring the dog trying and mostly failing to make new friends, and the robot's fate on the beach, where he mostly dreams of a kinder fate. It's a cute story, one that kids will appreciate for its surface value informed by the slight veneer of adult inscrutability, and one that adults will enjoy puzzling out, and for its at-times bleak sense of humor.
While Varon's designs are fun and her restrained, tasteful sense of color is soothing to the eye, the comics themselves lack a vibrancy that I think comes from an uncertain sense of pacing and staging. There are a few times where the eye expects characters to be in one place and they're suddenly in another that breaks the visual flow. The stories feel designed to illustrate their basic points rather than things that happened somewhere according to a world that has a life of its own. This is exacerbated by the fact that none of the scenes are truly surprising, even as accomplished as many of them are in terms of communicating levels of emotional distress and character shortcomings. Also, while the basic designs are superior, when they come alive the characters feel more like attractive stickers placed on a refrigerator in amusing tableaux than they do characters with a life and core of energy they call their own. This is a nice book, and a visually attractive one, but it's a comic that never transcends its initial impression to become something great.