Author: Written by Mark Andrew Smith & Illustrated by Matthew Weldon
Genre: Young Adult, Graphic Novel, Adventure, Fantasy
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: March 2009
Softcover: 179 pages
Out of the ashes of misfortune will rise the next generation of great adventurers! After their parents are lost on an archeological expedition, four children begin to unlock the secrets of their parents’ mysterious lives, discovering a hidden world of mystical artifacts, mythical creatures, and arcane knowledge. Soon they find themselves drawn into a conflict over a great library that has kept two kingdoms at war for centuries, the children must save an enchanted forest, the birthplace of magic itself. Join us as these children become the latest members of the fabled New Brighton Archeological Society, and take their first steps towards their true destiny!
Stand alone or series: Book 1 of a planned series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Author
Why did I read this book: When Mark Andrew Smith contacted us with the opportunity to read and review The New Brighton Archeological Society (one of our first ever graphic novel review queries!), I was thrilled. This book was recently voted as the Best All-Ages Graphic Novel of 2009 by MTV’s Splash Page, and has received rave reviews from Boing Boing, Ain’t It Cool News, and WIRED Magazine. With recommendations like that, how on earth could I refuse?
Let me start off this review by saying – wow. I repeat. Wow. The New Brighton Archeological Society is probably the best children’s (and all-ages appropriate) graphic novel I have ever read. Granted, there’s a dearth of true “all-ages” graphic novels on the market (many so-called children’s comics seemed to be more geared towards adult readers than actual children), but this is not praise I give lightly. The New Brighton Archeological Society is a story that is a achieves the mystical, elusive alchemy that makes The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter books so appealing to both children and adults alike: it encapsulates the wide-eyed wonder of fantasy in the midst of palpable danger, and neither patronizes nor makes tiny child-looking adults of its protagonists. That’s a very, very hard thing to do, and The New Brighton Archeological Society does it with pizazz.
Following the death of their famous archeologist parents, two pairs of siblings – Joss & Cooper, Becca & Benny – are taken into the care of their elderly godparents, the MacCombers, at Brighton Manor. Out of their tragic loss, however, the four friends and siblings come by great adventure, magic, and whole new worlds – literally. The Manor, home to both pairs of parents in their younger days, holds countless secrets and possibilities for these intrepid youngsters. During a snowball fight, the young explorers fall into a secret bunker and learn that their parents were part of a group called the Brighton Archeological Society. The four uncover an even more wondrous discovery on Brighton’s grounds as they stumble into a world of magic – of friendly and informative Goblins and dangerous warrior fairies. As they soon learn, their parents dedicated their lives, up to their deaths, to protect some very important magical books from the Great Library – especially from the clutches of a mysterious, nefarious man named Galomar. Impassioned to continue in their parents’ noble footsteps, the four decide to act – and with their new Goblin friends’ help, they raid Galomar’s castle, braving demons and vampires, to save the world from magical destruction.
While reading The New Brighton Archeological Society, one cannot help but think of those formative, captivating books of one’s youth – the comparisons between this book and C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling (there’s even overtures of some Hayao Miyazaki and Neil Gaiman in the mix) are indeed apt. This graphic novel may tread familiar territory – orphans following in their parents’ magic fight to save the world – but the visuals, the genuine wonder imbued in every frame of this graphic novel make the story seem fresh and bright-eyed. One of the best things about The New Brighton Archeological Society is that it isn’t patronizing in the slightest – and at the same time, it’s not gratuitously dark or violent. I also loved the fantasy element, putting a wonderful spin on a familiar creation myth and pitting fairies and goblins against each other (with Goblins as the good guys, in a welcome surprise). The fantasy element should appeal to Speculative Fiction readers of all ages – even if the material is a bit familiar, it’s enchanting.
And then there are the protagonists themselves. I LOVED the portrayal of the children, both in art and in characterization. Becca is inquisitive and apparently the “baby” of the group (prone to tears) – but when it comes down to her brother and friends in trouble, she shows her mettle. Hotheaded Benny is courageous and hungry for adventure and to continue his parents’ work. Cooper is the dreamer, the imaginative member of the bunch (and he instantly won my heart with his ZOMBIES! cry for help at the beginning of the book). And finally, Joss – my favorite character – is the brainy, storytelling girl. Her tale of the fearsome kitten that became Moloch is easily my favorite story within this graphic novel. There’s also a winsome Goblin character named Mitch – green tinged, butterscotch-loving, and very knowledgeable when it comes to all manner of monster and magic.
What’s more, I loved that the New Brighton Archeological Society is composed of two pairs of racially diverse kids – Joss and Cooper are Chinese American, and Becca and Benny are the Anglo/caucasian. This diversity stretches to the mythology of the book as well. Though western myth and theology are present (God, goblins, fairies), there also are Japanese Kappa (a frog-like water demon) and Chinese Vampires – and in a young adult book, this is pretty groovy.
Finally, I should mention that the art in The New Brighton Archeological Society is superb. Matthew Weldon’s art tells a story just as much as Mark Andrew Smith’s words do. There are stretches in the book – such as the introductory eight pages! – that have no words at all. This kind of interplay and trust, from the writer’s & illustrator’s ends, are a beautiful thing, and these wordless stretches are just as potent and memorable as the overall written story.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Two great sample panels – the first had me near tears at the beginning of the book, the second had me cracking up (CLICK TO ENLARGE):
(Don’t you love the expression on Joss – sister to the zombie-yarn-spinning Cooper – ‘s face? Awww)
Additional Thoughts: Three short stories for The New Brighton Archeological Society first appeared in POPGUN, the “original, critically acclaimed graphic mixtape” (POPGUN is a mashup preview of some of the finest, widest ranging comics available in an anthology). AND you, dear readers, can download the PDF HERE, completely free.
(Also, if you haven’t yet checked out the candy-slick, online comic awesomeness that is POPGUN, I highly recommend you take a gander)
Also, make sure to stick around as later today we have author Mark Andrew Smith over to talk about his Inspirations & Influences for this book, and commentary on comics and the medium’s evolving readership!
Verdict: Sweet, funny, smart, and heartfelt, featuring equally luscious writing and art, The New Brighton Archeological Society is damn near perfect. I loved it, wholeheartedly recommend it to readers of all ages, and I cannot wait for book 2!
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes