Is’Nana back in Action: “Birthday” Review

Do you remember Saturday morning cartoons? You know, cereal or oatmeal in hand, just before your momma turned on Luther and Anita to start the house cleaning routine… those Saturdays. That feeling of joy and expectation where absolutely nothing could ruin it? That is how it feels reading Is’nana Were-Spider: Birthday Day.

Greg Anderson Elysee has, once again, managed to bottle lightning with the latest edition in his Is’nana serial, if they are to be called that. The stories are most certainly not linear or chronological, which is part of the fun of following along. The deeper in you get, the harder it is to tell where you began and where you will end next, like actually being caught in the web of the famed trickster himself, Anansi.

Let me explain. Artist George Gant’s style in this comic was so light and fresh! It has the quality of cartoons from days gone by, but not insomuch as it felt exploitative of nostalgia, like most of modern media (yes, I’m looking at you Star Wars). The art in this book felt like watching Tiny-Toon Adventures, the ORIGINAL Animaniacs, and Tazmania, back to back after school with a Sunny-D, DunkAroos while arguing with your BFF’s om 3-way about who they’d rather add to the crew: Blossom Russo, or Clarissa Darling (the answer is Blossom… obvs).

If that reference went way over your head, don’t fret. In short, the art in this book captured the intense joy and insecurity of being a tween. It felt alive on the page. Even the way that Tumfeh, the tar baby, was illustrated, gave me OG Lite Brite vibes. I’m not sure how intentional it was, but the art in this book really managed to capture 90’s after school cartoon joy and I was here for every inking.

None of this is surprising because the artist, George Gant, is impressive and extremely talented. George Gant is a Chicago-based cartoonist and children’s book illustrator. He is the creator of the comic strips Beware of Toddler, The Reset Button, and On the Grind. He is also the artist of the comic strip Angel Face Investigates, which is published weekly in the Beano. I didn’t realize until writing this review that Gant was the illustrator behind Beware of Toddler, and geeked a bit after figuring it out. I am low-key obsessed, as is pretty much any other parent of a toddler who sees their actual life illustrated for the world to see.

Admittedly, there was a time or two where I got lost with the conversation bubbles. While the story was actually pretty light on dialogue, as most of the action was illustrated, a few panels required a second read from me. I tend to read very quickly, so that may be on me, but still worth bringing up.

I have to admit, after the near-perfect narrative and artistic storytelling in the last Is’nana tale, Showtime, I was concerned. I wasn’t sure how Elysée and his team were going to top that. How does one compete with a great story like that? That is the beauty in Birthday Day, they don’t. Elysée and artist George Gant diverted from the world we knew and took us into the childhood of a very young Is’nana and his best friends Lil’ Brer, Coutee, Ndua, and a tar baby named Tumfeh. One of my favorite aspects of the world that Elysée creates is its deep and rich connection to African myth and religion. Like most Black kids my age, I grew up on Br’er Rabbit, and my father was literally the Compton High school mascot, the Tar Baby, but I didn’t understand the significance of any of it then. I love the way Is’nana exposes readers to this world and normalizes non-western mythos.

Overall, Is’nana the Were-Spider: Birthday Day is a touching coming-of-age tale told in a fast, one-off chunk, but still somehow manages to be rich in culture, mythology, and character development. I really don’t know where else you are going to find that. Don’t take my word for it. Pick up a copy. If you haven’t hopped on the Is’nana train, I don’t know what you are waiting for. Climb on into the web with the rest of us.

Blerd Galaxy Star Ratings:

ART:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

WRITING/PLOT:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

OVERALL STAR RATING:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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