I’m kind of double dipping here, as this is the book that I’m using for my Graphic Novel Book club at work. But, I really like this book, so I wanted to pass it along. Let me start by mentioning that, yes, this is an all ages read. Some people may consider it a comic just for kids. But here on this review, I review something because it’s worth reading, no matter its intended audience.
OK, let’s dive into Lowriders in Space written by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raùl the Third.
Lowriders in Space is the story of a three friends, Lupe Impala (an impala), Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), and el Chavo Flapjack Octopus (an octopus) who love cars. The basic premise is that they work at a car yard, but want to buy their own. So, they aim to enter a car competition to win the money to accomplish this. They find a broken down lowrider, and spend the bulk of the story souping it up in, you guessed it, space. That is pretty cool. It’s literally a lowerider, in space. Simple and really fun premise.
Now, this is my second time reading this book, so I found myself seeing the story as a whole, instead of page by page. This read, it really struck me what was happening under the story. That is, we were getting a story about a lowrider in space, but at the same time, we were learning. We were learning about culture, about cars, and about space. But not in a way that made it feel like studying. These things were integrated in the story so they soaked in naturally. Let me explain.
Firstly, they don’t say where this story takes place, but I imagine it’s somewhere like Southern California or some place similar. I say this because it seems that, though all characters are animals, this story is rooted in Mexican American culture. There is a mix of English and Spanish throughout the story, and in the end notes, it talks about the origins of the lowrider in Southern California. Anyway, there are many Spanish words and phrases translated at the bottom of pages. This teaches readers a bit of Spanish, and since this book is aimed at children, that’s the right time to learn, when it’s easier to absorb these lessons. On another point about culture, visually you see the way characters dress, and the landscape of their home. This is one of the strengths of comics in general, that things can be pieced together without directly being mentioned in the story.
This story also teaches us about cars. Maybe you already know about cars, but I sure don’t. Now, it’s not a master course because, again, it is aimed for kids. So it gives a general overview of the insides and out of cars. It talks about paint jobs and engines and how to fix things. It’s enough to get a real idea of how this lowrider works and what they have to do to make it functional.
And space. We learn about space. As I said, much of the book is spent cruising through space. Along the way, they soup up their car with things they find in space. Thus, we come to learn a little about planets, stars, and gas. We see the sun, the ex planet Pluto, a black hole, and they even talk about constellations. It’s a fun and subtle way to explore space. One I think is perfect for younger readers.
Over all, I found myself thinking this story was a fantastical journey. A clear goal (win the competition) followed by some fun and really imaginative story telling to get us there. Though this is a younger read, I do think that anyone who likes to have fun will enjoy this story. Camper did a really great job mixing the fantastical with knowledge, while being both clear and subtle. I enjoyed the end result greatly.
Of course, story is only half of the effort when talking comics. And ever since I read this book the first time (a couple of years ago), Raul the Third’s art has stuck with me. When I read it originally, I though to myself “it almost looks like he did this in pen.” But figured it was a digital effect. I read the end notes this time, and he did in fact draw this book in red, blue, and black ballpoint pens. That is incredible to me. As many comics as I’ve made myself, I don’t think I’d have the kind of control to get what he did out of a ballpoint pen. It’s incredible. It’s this method that makes the aesthetic of this story stand out among the hundreds of stories I’ve read over the last year or two.
This drawing is also aided by browned pages on which they are printed. It was a really cool look. The pens would have looked good on white paper, but they look even better this way.
I also enjoyed the character design in this book. The three main characters all have their own sense of style, as did all of the background animals. Everyone looked like they were cool and authentic to the region. Plus, the man can draw a slick lowrider. This admiration comes from my inability to draw almost any car I put in a story.
I also enjoyed his depictions of space. There was plenty out there, without crowding the panel. Although, this happened through most of the book. He was able to fit in a lot with out overwhelming us.
I was really impressed with the composition of this book. I think that it could be easy to throw that off balance when using red, black, and blue pens only. But each panel (at least to me) guided the eye and emphasized the right things. I won’t get too technical, but I will say that there was a real sense of balance with the color.
Oh, and let me end with saying this. You know how much I appreciate a good, subtle joke. So when I noticed they worked at a place called Cartinflas, a play on the famous Mexican movie character Cantinflas, I laughed out loud. So thank you for that.
Final say: read this book. Yes, it all ages, but don’t let that stop you. The story is really fun, and the art is just something you have to see. Plus, there’s a sequel now, and a third one on the way! You can’t read those without the first one. Have I ever let you down on these reviews? (Don’t answer that). If you’re looking to have fun with your comics, this one’s for you.