In this graphic novel, a boy searches a surreal New York City for his lost dog, learning much about the world and himself.
Charlie, an imaginative youngster, enjoys spinning fantasies with his best buddy, Max the beagle, who plays “Sgt. Slobberface” to Charlie’s “Skyfighter 3030” in adventures reminiscent of Calvin’s Spaceman Spiff daydreams in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. One day, the two go out for a walk, and Max pulls at the leash to sniff and explore things. Charlie unfastens the dog’s lead when the two lie down for a nap in the park, but when the boy falls asleep, a passing cat with glowing aqua eyes galvanizes Max into a headlong chase. Charlie—his brown hair now also a shade of aqua, a subtle signal that readers are in dream time—runs behind, following Max out of the park, down to the subway, onto a car, and through New York City. Charlie has a series of often frightening Alice in Wonderland-style encounters with urban figures—subway riders, transit cops, street corner philosophers, skeletal socialites, a bike messenger—who all share their own worldviews. Charlie escapes from sticky situations, gets help from kind people, rescues Max from mean punks, and finds himself in a nightmarish amusement park. A recurring figure, an elderly African-American man, helps Charlie understand that “you alone control you, your energy. Your happiness and sadness…your fright, excitement.” Charlie (again with brown hair) wakes up with Max from their nap in the still-sunny park, and they play a joyous game of Frisbee. Debut author Lieberman, a filmmaker and media producer, brings cinematic energy to this dynamic, always-unfolding story, with good dialogue that captures a variety of speech. Debut illustrator Neubert’s illustrations, lavishly produced in full color on glossy paper, contribute greatly to the characterization and the storytelling, especially in the book’s wordless, more fantastic sections. In some ways, though, the book could use more surreality and nonsense, instead of explicitly teaching lessons, which may not appeal to young readers. Also, the presence of a magical African-American character who helps the white protagonist comes off as something of a cliché.
This urban Alice in Wonderland combines excitement and reflection to take readers on a colorfully wild ride through an archetypal New York.