Scarlett: A Star on the Run
Talking animal stories aren't exactly new, and especially not in children's books and especially not in the graphic form, in general. And yet, there is something definitely new and original about SCARLETT: A Star on the Run that makes it stand out from the crowd. Perhaps it's because the animal can talk because of sketchy genetic splicing and incredibly unethical animal experimentation, or maybe it's because the animals have a much more grounded adventure than might be expected, but the graphic novel definitely isn't content to fall back on the tried and true tropes of talking-animal fiction.
The book shines, in fact, where it keeps things small and grounded. Scarlett is a cat who doesn't yearn for much, but definitely wants to be normal. Normal by mostly human standards, at least, with a nice home and the company of friends, both animal and human. Her trials and tribulations are not to save the world or even the country. Instead, she faces cleaning up an old recluse's home and learning the ins and outs of credit card debt. It's a strange situation, but one that works thanks to the fine character work, the way that Scarlett and Trotter play off each other and the constant small dramas that push the plot along.
That said, the book does have some pacing issues and at times seems a bit aimless in its point. Events happen to move Scarlett and the rest of the cast from place to place (health concerns and jerk dogs and parental confrontations), but the plot at large can seem a bit accidental, with the resolution coming a bit fast and the ending, while satisfying, providing almost too convenient a way of wrapping everything up. While the characters are fun and vivid, there are times when the plot of SCARLETT seems just a little bit forced.
"There is something definitely new and original about SCARLETT: A Star on the Run that makes it stand out from the crowd."
Of course, the art and structure of the story help to distract from that. The art is charming and rendered with a lot of personality in the faces of the characters. They express and emote, and it makes getting to know an old hermit with some hording issues more fun rather than creepy. At times, SCARLETT is structured as an illustrated story instead of comic panels. This helps sections that require a bit more exposition or info dumping move a bit faster while still capturing the most important parts for everyone to see.
In the end, I think that SCARLETT does a lot of interesting things with the premise of talking animals. With such a strong speculative element, most of the time these kinds of stories have a tendency to follow speculative lines (magic or advanced technology or aliens or…something), but here, the story is very grounded, very human --- mundane, almost. The characters --- cat, dog and otherwise --- are all looking for a place to belong and people who will accept them for who they are. Which is a nice message, and one earnestly conveyed by the graphic story. While the plot hiccups at times, I think the project as a whole is still well worth checking out.
Reviewed by Charles Payseur on November 2, 2015