(Oni P, $10.95, paperback, 104 pages, April 2003; ISBN: 1929998309.)
Since the early 1990s, Jay Stephens, a Canadian cartoonist based in Guelph, Ontario, has been producing comics imbued with a twisted yet childlike imagination. His newest release, Jetcat Clubhouse, continues the adventures of the characters from his 1999 collection The Land of Nod Rockabye Book. These comics lovingly pastiche the effervescent absurdity of Saturday morning television cartoons.
Melanie is an elementary schoolgirl who leads a double life as the superhero Jetcat. Her friends include Tutenstein, an inept boy mummy who is much too nice to follow through on his dreams of world domination, Oddette, the richest little girl in the world and a junk-rock star to boot, and Ploppy, an incontinent space monkey. Jetcat's arch-enemy is the monstrous evil scientist Bela Kiss.
On one level, Jetcat Clubhouse works as straightforward children's adventure, drawn in a style that evokes the economic versatility of Charles Schulz, the colourful exuberance of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and the silliness of Harvey Comics like Richie Rich. In those very influences, which hark back to the 1960s, lies a nostalgic hook for adult readers. It's a wry nostalgia, though, with generous sprinklings of postmodern irony.
In Jetcat Clubhouse, Stephens pokes fun of all the ridiculous clichés of classic Saturday morning children's programming while simultaneously indulging gleefully in those very conventions. He earnestly shows how much pleasure lurks within his source material. And that's how Stephens pulls off his delicate balancing act: despite all his sardonic jabs, he never makes fun of the reader, for Stephens, too, loves the material that he satirizes.
Jetcat Clubhouse is fully enjoyable either as zany kid superhero fun or as ironic postmodern pop-culture artefact.
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© Claude Lalumière 30 November 2002, 12 April 2003