Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, a Graphic Novel For Kids Worth Exploring
Reinterpreting the Anthology For a New Generation
Reviewed today by Jason Carpenter
Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone’s enduring legacy has been the impact it’s had on short form storytelling and the generation-spanning celebration of the paranormal-infused science fiction/fantasy genre. But, alas, for the demographic born after 1990, television has failed to deliver the next culture-defining anthology program. Perhaps with Explorer: The Mystery Boxes ($10.95 paperback, $19.95 hardcover, Amulet Books, ages 9 and up), as edited by Amulet creator Kazu Kibuishi, with stories by a host of other artists and writers, the graphic novel format will carry the torch of those well-told– often replete with jaw-dropping, gut-punching finales– morality plays that possess more than a touch of the bizarre.
Explorer holds seven short tales, including one by Kibuishi himself, connected thematically by one element: each work has its own manifestation of a magical, mystical, or otherwise pedestrian-seeming box. The boxes, whether harboring treasure or inciting mischief, are really the crystal pools in which the true nature of the protagonists are reflected. The seven stories vary in tone and atmosphere, from the comic to the otherworldly, and, as is wont with anthology compendiums, they achieve varying levels of success.
Chief among the standouts are Emily Carroll’s “Under the Floorboards”; in it, a young girl discovers a duty-bound wax doll that may be evolving (or devolving) into a spiteful doppelgänger. Carroll’s grim fairy tale plays out like a minimalist hybrid of the gothic whimsy of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time series and the psychological interior of Marjane Satrapi’s award-winning graphic novel Persepolis. It’s also the closest in spirit to Serling’s odes to the macabre. Rad Sechrist’s “The Butter Thief” adopts an outline-free aesthetic reminiscent of Genndy Tartakovsky’s elegant Samurai Jack animated series, and is the most action-packed and oddly moving of the bunch.
The scope and spiritual ambition of the Explorer: The Mystery Boxes compilation is admirable– the mystery is why it isn’t attempted more often.
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