Sidekicks, by Dan Santat, 216 pp, RL 3

Sidekicks by the amazing Dan Santat is awesome!! I was vaguely familiar with Santat's cover illustrations and the few picture books he had done, but it took Mac Barnett's OH NO!, published in 2010, for me to truly tune into his artistic storytelling genius. A wonder of a book, both for text and illustrations, OH NO! was definitely a harbinger of great things to come from both Barnett and Santat. And, here we are, a year later, graced with this vibrant, funny, exciting graphic novel, Sidekicks. If there is anyone in your life, you who likes (or liked) superheroes, both the comic and television/movie variety, you MUST buy him/her this book! If there is anyone else in your life who just likes a great story and fabulous artwork, Sidekicks is also a must. If you need anymore convincing, the book trailer, while a bit more intense in presentation that the book itself, which is frequently very humorous, is a better presentation of Santat's book than I anything I can write or show below.

According to Betsy Bird at fuse #8 (and the Society of Superheroes Sidekick application at the back of the book that serves as the author info and dedication page) Sidekicks took seven years to complete! While this does not surprise me, the artwork is very detailed and colorful, it does sadden me a bit. Does this mean that we will have to wait another seven years before Mr Santat graces the shelves with another graphic novel? As long as he keeps up occupied with more great picture books and (please, possibly??) a movie version of Sidekicks, I guess my son and I can wait somewhat patiently. Speaking of my son, he "read" this book from cover to cover immediately when I brought it home. A week or so later we squeezed into an armchair together to read SOME of the book. I had no intentions of reading ALL of the book to him, but that is what happened. Once we started there was no way to stop. So, prepare yourselves and clear out 30 - 45 minutes of your day if you plan on reading Sidekicks out loud to your kids.

Sidekicks begins with a dog and a hamster waiting patiently for their master to return home. While they wait, we learn that Captain Amazing has had a minor set back while chasing down thieves. It seems that he is allergic to peanuts and a crashed into a street vendor selling the nuts sends him into a month long recovery period. This time off leads Captain Amazing to the realization that maybe it is time for him to take on a sidekick again, despite the heartbreak he experienced when his last sidekick left him.
As the story unfolds, we learn the history of Captain Amazing's last sidekick as well as the secret training that his other pets, Roscoe, Fluffy and newest addition to the family, Shifty the chameleon, are undertaking in the hopes of becoming Captain Amazing's new sidekick. Santat is a great story teller and Sidekicks has a very satisfying completeness to it. This super ability could be in part because Santat created the animated series The Replacements for the Disney Channel, but, if you read any of the picture books he has illustrated, you can tell that his has a gift for visual story telling that is perfectly suited to the graphic novel. As Bird writes in her review, "Visual storytelling is a difficult art to master, but storyboarding your own plots can help. What is can't do is teach someone how to shake up points of view, panel sizes, and more. Mr Santat handles such visual games with aplomb. He even works in a couple little instances of mild manga-related techniques for spice. As a result, the book on a visual level leaves a lot of its competitors in the dust."

I don't want to reveal too much of the plot here - Santat shares an interesting backstory and bits of information as the story unfolds and part of the pleasure of the book is discovering these things as you go, but I can share two of my favorite parts. The first comes when Manny, aka Static Cat, takes Fluffy (and Shifty) under his wing. They visit his favorite nightclub, The Igloo, found in the penguin encounter at the zoo,  for drinks, peanuts and herring. Below is a preliminary sketch Santat did for the scene.
As a fan of the movie Mystery Men, based on the comic books by Bob Burden, I especially loved the pages the depicted the Sidekick Auditions at the Society for Superheroes Headquarters. Along with the legitimate hopefuls, Santat slips in a potential sidekick in a narwhal costume, which is hilarious. Then, there is a sidekick sporting a big red A on his forehead and the logo for Arthur A Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic and publisher of Sidekicks and the Harry Potter series, on his musclebound chest. Who could this hero be and what exactly is that weapon that he carries on his back?

I really hate being one of those people who is always suggesting that a book be turned into a movie, but if you are a genuine lover of storytelling then you can't help wanting to have more of a good thing that you love. I realize that the transition from book to film frequently goes awry, but, in Santat's obviously capable hands I think that a Sidekicks movie definitely could be more of a good thing. As he says in his sidekick application, his super ability is to "function normally with little or no sleep" so maybe taking on yet another project might not be too much for this super talented guy?

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