Every book that Nobrow Press puts out is gorgeous, in terms of book production, a showcase for nice papers, Pantone inks, neat bindings, good design and the power of endpapers to add to an experience. They use some kind of special board in their hardcovers that’s lighter than it seems it would be, making a hefty book easier to read. But I’m often disappointed in the content. There are exceptions—Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, Fabien Grolleau and Jérémie Royer’s collaborations, William Grill’s The Wolves of Currumpaw, all of which are unexpectedly affecting—but a lot of its products are stronger in style than in substance. Molly Mendoza’s Skip seems like it might also fall into that category, but it ends up having strengths that recommend it. For one thing, all of the characters use “they/them” pronouns, something that gradually becomes clear as the story progresses. It’s a bold move, but it reflects Mendoza’s commitment to creating a book that is not only inclusive but embracing of a wide spectrum of readers.
When it starts, in what seems like a postapocalyptic environment with parent figure Bee and child Bloom, it seems to have a lot in common with Gipi’s Land of the Sons. Bee and Bloom live on the water, isolated from anyone else. We don’t know what happened to make the world this way. Bloom says that butter and cheese, which they’ve heard of but never tasted, probably aren’t even real. Where it differs from Gipi’s book is in its look, all soft and brushy, colored with brownish oranges and grayish blues. There’s privation but also tenderness. Bee’s hands are large and strong, and their muscles obvious, but they also treat food delicately as they prepare it. The world is lonely but not in a desperate way. We don’t have the feeling that something truly horrible is just around the corner, even when Bee leaves to investigate the state of things. That’s rare in anything that takes place post-global trauma. Mendoza treats her creations with great gentleness. That could have resulted in something too childlike, but the book manages to slip effectively between YA and grown-up comics, feeling like neither. This is a trick that the best children’s literature executes. Read Margaret Wise Brown’s My World with your kids and you may find yourself overwhelmed and enraptured with the simple objects it pictures, your heart hurting and swelling at its grasp of the way a child learns the universe. Skip isn’t in that category of amazeballs...but it’s in the amazeballpark.
The small world opens up into a bigger one as Bloom skips stones into the lake, then seems to go through a portal at its bottom into a different realm. A page of 15 squarish panels sits across from one of four panels nested inside one another, both full of color and abstraction, echoing the “Star Gate” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. They’re notable because the color palette expands dramatically, then contracts to blue and yellow as we enter Gloopy’s botanically based world. Are we going to skip from story to story? Nah. Bloom and Gloopy take a little while to get together, but they do, and then we get green, followed by more travel to new dimensions or universes or whatever they are. Each one is set apart by its colors, which is part of how we know we’re in a new place. In one our protagonists are tiny, pursued by a cat that dwarfs them; another, mostly fire, also includes dragons.
There’s a lot of fleeing from one frying pan to the next, always with plenty to look at. It’s a bit illustrative in its effects, but Mendoza makes nice lines and blocks. She knows when to show imperfections, when to make her blacks super-dark, how to use negative space, how to vary a wash, when to break a panel (she doesn’t outline them in black). Sometimes the book feels like a portfolio of all her skills, and that can be annoying. Why do you have to keep showing us all the things you can do? Why can’t you settle down to something steady and predictable? This is what it’s like to be around someone young, someone who hasn’t been told no enough times to think better of her adventurous decisions. It is annoying until you realize that she might be right. Why not do the things she does? Skip is in some ways an experimental comic, but it’s subtle; it doesn’t feel like one while you’re reading it. Its story is fairly traditional and easy to understand—friendship, family, bonds among humans, getting outside your comfort zone—but it embodies a worldview that embodies those things as much as it presents them. It is as much as it tells. Form and function match up well, and that makes it worth reading.