Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Salt Water Taffy: Caldera's Revenge, Part 2 by Matthew Loux

Rubber-hose animation will never be dead as long as Matthew Loux is still cartooning (and I hope that will be for a long, long time). His figures have a looping, rubbery energy, defined by utterly precise black lines that always feel quickly dashed off. No matter what stories he's telling, his pictures have a deep energy and verve, as if his figures can only barely be contained by the page.

For the last few years, we've mostly seen Loux with his Salt Water Taffy series for younger readers, telling the adventures of two boys one summer in one of those towns where strange things just keep happening -- in this case, it's Chowder Bay, on the Maine coast. (I reviewed the first two books together, and then the third separately, with the fourth ending up in a stories-about-kids roundup.) Caldera's Revenge! Part 2 is the fifth book in the series and -- as that title hints -- the second part of the story that began in the last book.

It picks up right after the cliffhanger of the first part of Caldera's Revenge -- in which the nasty sperm whale of the title has attacked a boat in which our heroes are riding and hurtled one of them, Jack, into the sea. Jack is rescued, which is good -- but by a ship of two-hundred-year-old ghost whalers chasing Caldera, which is not as good. Most of this fifth volume follows Jack on board that ship, with a secondary plot following his brother, Benny, trying to figure out how to stop Caldera while their friend Angus fixes up the boat to go find Jack.

In the end, they all do something -- ghost pirates, both boys, their lost kid talking-quid friend from the last volume (just trying to get home to his pod, and terrorized by Caldera), and even that big ol' nasty whale -- to fix the situation and get everything back the way it's supposed to be. This volume has more action and adventure than the previous books, though it's not as funny and kid-sized as the others -- that's the trade-off, I suppose. And Loux's art -- I haven't even mentioned his detailed backgrounds; he's got a fantastic range to go with his energy and style -- make every page a joy to look at and a bolt of pure movement. It may well be true that there's nothing better in life than being a kid during summer, and the Salt Water Taffy books evoke that feeling of freedom and possibility like nothing else in the world.

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