In UNPLUGGED AND UNPOPULAR, Mat Heagerty crafted a story (with the aid of illustrator Tintin Pantoja, colorist Mike Amante, letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, and editor Robin Herrera) about a young girl who learned a valuable lesson about the importance of not staring into your phone/computer/television screens all of the time: because aliens were taking over the earth and using those devices to brainwash the populace. Solid artwork backed up an important message, almost forgotten within a funny, well-paced, and exuberant first all-ages graphic novel outing from writer Heagerty.
Heagerty has since written a second all ages graphic novel, MARTIAN GHOST CENTAUR, in which he presents the reader with yet another important lesson – living within the moment and appreciating the wonder of your surroundings – wrapped in another cleverly written, equally deft graphic novel. Heagerty has just three credits to his professional CV, the third of which is a five-year-old series from Action Lab titled Just Another Sheep, but clearly he has found his niche in All Ages graphic fiction.
Heagerty comes across as a natural storyteller (which will serve him well as he is the father of two young children, both of whom cameo in the book), and his goal seems to be simply to make fun stories that are naturally accessible to everyone.
(I had a conversation with author Paul Tobin several years ago about the aim of “All Ages” work, and in comics most tend to believe – and this is the case even today – that All Ages means ‘juvenile,’ where it really means ‘universally accessible,’ and Heagerty seems to naturally get that idea, and write to it. It is always refreshing and exciting to see books marketed as All Ages that are truly All Ages.)
MARTIAN GHOST CENTAUR, released last week from ONI Press, features Louie, a young high school girl watching her small town get taken over by a tech company. She makes it her mission to stop the company and restore Southborough to the once thriving town it had been. Louie also learns about change as her friend is about to go away to college, and the lack of tourism to Southborough (once known as a sighting spot for Sasquatch) is threatening to close her parents’ restaurant.
Louie’s mission takes on layers and levels of importance she hadn’t expected, especially when she learns more about people she thought she knew – and folks she thought she wanted to know. Everything comes to a head when the titular character, the Martian Ghost Centaur, is discovered in town, and it’s relationship to Louie’s past – and things she didn’t know – are revealed.
CENTAUR is a wonderfully crafted book about those last couple of years in high school when everything changes. At that age, our bodies have already started to betray us, but then so does the world. We become more aware of a greater world around us as we move outside of our own surroundings. But if you have lived in a place for which some visit for its history, or some other unique element of interest to outsiders, the world has always come to you, and now that isn’t the case. Like we all had to do, or like our children will have to do, and like Louis will have to do in the book, the time will come to spread wings and fly on our own. How we navigate the landscape outside our own beliefs and understandings will dictate our success.
And how we decide to hold on to our comforts and biases – and WHICH comforts and biases we decide to keep – are of huge importance to our lives moving forward.
And once again, Heagerty has taken a moment in our lives, wrapped it in a seemingly silly concept, and made it blossom into a poignant and relatable tale that as the genre suggests, is accessible to everyone.
Heagerty is assisted brilliantly by artist Steph Mided, who while bringing to the book a style all her own, she counts among her influences Scott Pilgrim’s Bryan O’Malley. The manga influence on Mided suggests a fluidity between UNPLUGGED and CENTAUR, and gives CENTAUR an immediate sense of familiarity if you have already read UNPLUGGED. Mided’s style is animated, fun, and lively, without being over the top or over-exaggerated, which can sometimes oversell the artwork to the point of undermining the believability of a story.
Mided, who also inked and colored the book, does nothing like that here, and even if you are not familiar with manga, or even if you aren’t a fan of the medium, Mided’s art will draw you into Louie’s world quickly. The fun and sometimes perfectly goofy jokes in the background will definitely help keep you entertained, especially on a second reading. (I should note that the art pieces by Mided accompanying the chapter breaks are a lot of fun, too.)
Returning to work with Heagerty and letter the book is Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, and new editor Grace Scheipeter guided production in such a way that nothing about the story feels editorially driven, which is a good sign. Otsmane-Elhaou’s balloons are emotive and unobtrusive, and the fonts and kerning are all perfect for legibility without taking over the artwork.
Just like UNPLUGGED, CENTAUR is a fun book that you don’t realize is making you think. Adults will certainly have more to think about than younger kids, but younger kids may read this and have questions about their futures, and that’s where the great benefit of good books comes into play: they start discussions from which we can all learn new things.
Whether or not Heagerty intended to make us all think about these things when he crafted CENTAUR, or he’s just an unconsciously subversive genius, I am definitely looking forward to his next books, of which there are apparently at least three over the next couple of years.
MARTIAN GHOST CENTAUR is available in bookshops everywhere. At the ICRVN, we recommend purchasing books at your local bookshop, or via BOOKSHOP.ORG which gives a portion of every sale to independent bookstores.
(Full Disclosure, I met Mat Heagerty at ALA 2019, and consider him a friend. He’s also too nice of a guy to hate for being this good a writer.)