Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention featured a number of authors this year, which I was incredibly happy to see, and I hadn't met all of them before. The one I got to talk longest with is Ashley Moore, mostly because I was privileged to moderate her AMA, although she was there not for the books she's written but for one she's painted. She's primarily an artist and she illustrated 'Clockwork Scott', which is also a story about a character inspired by her husband, Dr. Scott Moore. It seems odd that she didn't write it too but having the name of a #1 New York Times bestseller, Aprilynne Pike, on the cover, can't hurt sales.
This isn't technically a graphic novel, because only a few pages is presented in comic book format, with an expected progression of panels and, occasionally, textualised sound effects. However, it's my kinda-sorta graphic novel for March because it's certainly a visual book, the illustrations being full page and colour and the text presented sparsely, in the way we expect in books for young children, which this is. It's a fanciful translation of the real story of her husband's grit and determination under challenging conditions into a tale of an unusual steampunk robot hero.
Initially, Clockwork Scott is not unusual at all, except in that he's the hero who saves folk in Geartown when they need saving, like Little Liz Contraptor when a velociraptor (no relation) steals her lunch and tries to eat her brother. Her call for help acts like a batsignal and, just like that, Clockwork Scott saves the day and there's raptor for lunch. Velociraptor, not Contraptor. This is what he does, because it's who he is. I don't think the council of Geartown pays him to be their hero. He does it because it needs doing and who better to do it than him? He's actually an engineer who's working on a way to use steam as an energy source for powered flight.
And then reality intrudes in the rude and brutally unfair way that it tends to adopt when someone is a difference-maker. Little Kevin Cogswell gets stuck in the rails just as the steam-trolley is about to crash into him and Clockwork Scott saves the day once more, but at serious cost because he's promptly hit by the steam-trolley instead of the boy he saved. He's fixed up, of course, because you can't kill off heroes in children's books but also because this is a fictionalised parallel to the real story of Scott Moore, who had a serious accident of his own, even if it wasn't being hit by a steam-trolley in Geartown.
The injuries are very similar, though it's hard to translate collapsed lungs into steampunk robot. Both Scotts lost vision in one eye and the use of one hand, along with a traumatic brain injury, translated in this book to jammed cogs. Clockwork Scott also loses the use of an ear, so this hero of Geartown is now half-blind, half-deaf and stuck with only one functional arm, a loss that proves especially difficult in his work as an engineer as well as in his more heroic endeavours. How can he work a personal jetpack with only one hand? It takes two. So, really, does battling Chet the Kraken.
I'm sure you don't need any further hints to write the rest of this story yourself, but it's well-told and it carries a powerful message to the young readers who ought to devour this book, initially for its vibrant watercolour art but, gradually, for its message, that regardless what Yoda says, there is a "try", and it can be the most important thing. If they choose to read the 'About' page after the 'End' doublespread, it'll become even more powerful still because reading about the real Clockwork Scott, Scott Moore, is a brutal application of reality after what's seemed like a whimsical story of robots.
I've been in a serious accident and have the stitches and dental implants as memories, but even I can't imagine how hard it must have been for the Moores. Scott Moore's brain injury was serious enough to potentially change him in massive ways and it took him a lot of time, effort and, indeed, help to recover to the point of being functional again. That he then went back to medical school to finish his degree is a vast achievement, especially when his wife, the creator of this book, worried about whether he'd even remember who she was. We can do a lot of things when we try. And, if that's a powerful message even for a fifty-year-old book reviewer, it's all the more powerful to a young reader who hasn't done more in their few years than stub their toe when running down the stairs.
I really hadn't planned to talk about the story that much, but it took over the review and I was happy to let it. I appreciated the story, but adored the art. I'd seen a couple of images beforehand when doing a little research on Ashley Moore, so I could be prepared for her AMA, including a gorgeous one of a host of colourful but worried robots looking at... something. There's nothing in that isolated image to even hint at what they're looking at, but this book ably fills in that blank.
These are not overly complicated images, but they do everything that they need to. Ashley Moore has an economy of brushstroke that I saw echoed in her pencil drawings online. They're even more stripped down in vision but just as utterly effective. You don't have to draw a lot of lines if you can draw the right line and she's a perfect example of the artist who can do that while making it look so simple that we'll think that we could do it just as easily and just as well. Spoiler: we can't.
I'm hardly the target audience for this book, at least any more. I'd have adored it when I was five. The thing is that I think it's pretty amazing at fifty too and that's probably the biggest compliment that I'd be able to throw at any children's book. I sometimes go back to some of the kids' novels that I read as a teenager but I don't read books for an audience this young. The better half fields those, because she's looking after nine grandkids on a daily basis and she reads to them or them to her. I'll happily pass this one over to her to see which of them connect with it. As long as she brings it back. ~~ Hal C F Astell