Review by Anthony N. Castle
Meet Anders, Eden and their new friend, Bernie. It’s the school holidays, and there are comics to be made, games to be played, ice cream to be eaten, and rhinos to impress at Wekiwa water park.
Then Anders and his friends meet the Green Grabber and things take on a whole new twist, leading Anders to a wonderful pet, Skip, and to wild adventures – and a dramatic rescue – in the sky.
An endearing story of fun, friendship and unexpected courage.
Gregory Mackay is a Melbourne-based cartoonist known for his Francis Bear series, which details the adventures of an inebriated stuffed toy, as well as his award-winning autobiographical comics. Anders and the Comet, Mackay’s first all-ages book for Allen and Unwin, is very much a combination of these elements – anthropomorphic animals and a sense of lived experience – but instead applied to the ordinariness of childhood.
Anders and the Comet is the charming story of an enterprising young squirrel that sets out on a number of adventures, real and imagined, with his friends. Anders meets a shy new boy (elephant) named Bernie on the final day of school and they form a new circle of friends over the summer holidays.
The story deftly arranges an array of surreal elements – anxious elephants, mysterious inventors, imagined jungles and actual comets – with the rather relatable elements of childhood. Anders may be a squirrel who flies with the help of an adopted beetle, but he sleeps under his bed, eats cereal, watches cartoons, makes comics and visits the zoo. The book’s pacing positions these ordinary routines of childhood as foundational to, and interwoven with, fantastic journeys and strange challenges. Anders and the Comet does not juxtapose the ordinariness of childhood with adventure, but suggests that these things are intertwined.
There’s a playful sense of subversion to the storytelling. The book isn’t cynical in the slightest, but frequently subverts how the reader might expect the story to function. For instance, young characters wear eye-patches without explanation, mysterious scientists appear in mechanical suits and even the plot-function of the comet doesn’t do what the reader might expect. Anders and the Comet continually surprises the reader and avoids the saccharine cliches that some children’s books about anthropomorphic animals can offer.
Mackay’s black and white illustration is remarkably simple. Characters are designed without hands and mouths and with dots for eyes. This style of illustration also underpins the story’s humour and warmth. Anders addresses a crowd in one scene, pausing with outstretched arms to accept riotous applause once he is done. The beat is effective and if Mackay were to add detail to the expression or body language the degree of the comedy might decrease.
Anders and the Comet builds its characters and world over an episodic structure. The characters imagine worlds, manage reality and read and build their own stories along the way. It all comes together when Anders and his friends must confront a final challenge. Apart from this climactic finale, the book isn’t about young characters going on a big adventure in another world, rather it is about young people using their creativity and imagination to make their own adventures in their own worlds.
Anders and the Comet is a very ordinary childhood adventure, and that’s precisely its charm.
Creator: Gregory Mackay
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Page Extent: 160
Age: 6 – 9
For more on Anders and the Comet, check out allenandunwin.com