Blankets by Craig Thompson was one of the first graphic novels I read. Over the course of a week, during lunch breaks while I worked at the bookstore, I consumed this 592 page adult graphic novel and was astounded at what a moving, intimate experience reading this book proved to be. Thompson followed up Blankets with Habibi, an epic story that begins with a nine-year-old girl being sold off into marriage to a scribe. I tell you this, for those of you not familiar with Thompson's work, because his foray into the worlds of kid's graphic novels and science fiction comes as a very unexpected, pleasant surprise! When I first heard about Space Dumplins, I was so excited to know that there would be a Craig Thompson graphic novel I could review here. And also because I knew it would be long! A really long graphic novel, one that you can't read in a sitting, is like dessert, Christmas and a birthday rolled into one, and Space Dumplins definitely lives up to all that, in story and illustrations! Thompson has created a complete world in outer space populated by a raft of characters you want to spend time with along with a layered story and some really fantastic verbal and visual puns.
Violet Marlocke lives with her parents somewhere in the solar system in a very dangerous time. The only remaining fuel source is the waste from planet-eating space whales. These "logs" are harvested and brought to a factory to be turned into timber by lumberjacks, who while often human, are considered equal to subspecies by the upper class. The wealthier inhabitants of this solar system live on fuel-comsuming, constantly moving spaceships to outrun the space whales while the lower classes are forced to live on stationary "roids" that are basically trailer parks for spaceships. When Violet's school is eaten by a space whale, she has to go to work with her mother, Cerulean, who is a day laborer on Shell-Tarr, the "ultimate in astral comfort & security." Thompson's scenes of day laborers arriving on Shell-Tarr and passing through security and the ways in which they travel separate from the inhabitants of Shell-Tarr through the spaceship will give older readers pause. That said, both old and young will be completely consumed by the intricate, jam-packed scenes of life on Shell-Tarr, from the food to the transportation to the aliens, humans and clothes. It is a lot to take in and deserves to be read slowly - and more than once!
On Shell-Tarr, Violet meets Elliot, a button runner for Adam, the fashion designer Cera works for. Elliot is a young, cerebral rooster who identifies as a chicken. His father is on Lab Star where he developing the "test tube proteins that now humanely sustain station dwellers." He is also working on something inhumane and ultimately dangerous to all life forms in the galaxy.
When Violet's beloved dad goes missing at the same time as the "worst environmental disaster in history: WHALE DIARRHEA!" She takes it upon herself, with the help (or hindrance) of Elliot and her mechanically gifted but temperamentally aggressive friend, the lumpy, orange Zacchhaeus, to head out into space and find her father and discovers something much bigger and more dangerous than whale poop. Thompson's story and artwork are fast paced, funny and weird - in the best way possible. There is so much going on in Space Dumplins at all times that you will want to read it again and again, which is why I suggest spending a few dollars more and buying this book in hardcover! The epilogue for Space Dumplins is perfect and sets the stage for what could be a fantastic follow-up, although I'm not sure Craig Thompson does sequels...