Saturday, March 3, 2007

NEOTOPIA: Volume 1

FORMAT: Paperback digest, collecting issues 1-5
PUBLISHER: Anarctic Press
GENRE: Fantasy

Nature versus Industry
Love versus Hate
Standing Up For What Is Right

Professor Felder
Sgt. Tinbolt
Lord Emperor X’Xorgon
Emperor Sinslith
Taskmaster Ghul

At one time, the land of Neotopia became dominated by industry. That industry, however, polluted the land and corrupted the society. Greed and deception ruled the land and the mystical and magical creatures left the world. One thousand years later, the world moved back to a way of life that was in harmony with nature and the magic that was once lost found its way back into society.

During her childhood the main character, Nalyn, played with her friend, who also happened to be Nydia, the Grand Duchess of Methenia. As they grew older the Grand Duchess became bored with the everyday affairs of the kingdom. So her servant friend, Nalyn, stood in her place, entertaining guests, meeting diplomats, attending school, learning self-defense, and attending parties.

Her brother, the Grand Duke was tyrannical and cold. He was concerned with acquiring wealth and territory. One day their land was attacked by the Kingdom of Krossia, from the other side of the world. Other countries came to their aid, but treachery was loose and the Methenians were scattered across the lands. Together with her friends, Nalyn, still posing as the Grand Duchess embarks on an adventure to save Neotopia.

Written by Rod Espinosa, creator of the Eisner-nominated comic book, The Courageous Princess, this is an action packed story, with good character development in the main character, Nalyn. The secondary characters, her friends, are still pretty undeveloped in this first volume as are the evil insect-like invaders from Krossia.

Espinosa did a good job integrating the ideas of nature into the story. Well past the days of industry, work is achieved through old-fashioned hand-work. Jet packs and laser guns are a thing of the past. Weapons include bows, staffs, swords, cannons and the like. Transportation is very representatives of old sailing vessels of old, complete with masts, ropes and modified sails. That is, the ships are able to sail on water and air, using some type of hot air balloon technology.

Espinosa is a manga artist who utilizes thin ink ines and he makes use of color for shading. The color is light and beautiful. Unlike many manga comics, this is in full color, which makes for beautiful pages. It is considered a pocket manga, which means it is a digest sized book. The pages are fine quality matte paper with a 158-page story. Included in the back is a map of the lands and a chart showing the route of each army, which was very helpful.

My Rating: All Ages, 8 and older preferred
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages

While this tale is suitable for all ages, it will be difficult for lower elementary students to grasp on their own. It would be a fine read for those early grades if co-read with an adult to explain the dialogue, story and the art work.

There are a lot of big issues in Neotopia: racism, classism, ecology, and imperialism, all of which could be discussed in a social sciences setting. Nalyn is a servent posing as royalty, and her friend, Monti, is a Chiropterian, a race who is not liked by many humans. These dynamics caqn be played out on the classroom and even school wide unit, discussion how there are different groups of kids in the school and how that plays a role in how others are treated.

The Krossian army is trying to take over the rest of the world and they would not be the first to try to create an empire. This could be used in a discussion of 20th or 21st Century politics as well as a history lesson of the rise and fall of other empires.

The driving force behind everything, is the push and pull between nature and industry which is a perfect backdrop to discuss recycling and pollution and how it affected their world, allowing the students to draw conclusions about our world.

You could use the Neotopian technology of flying to discuss how a hot air balloon works and how ships use wind as a power. For that matter, you could discover how different types of renewable energy souces.

Rod Espinosa also created The Courageous Princess, which was nominated for an Eisner Award. He has other works under his belt as well.

I enjoyed this first volume of stories and I want to see what happens next. I appreciated the introduction of nature and how it plays a vital role in our world as well as the different class of people involved. The society seems very real and well thought out. While the story may be difficult even for upper elementary students, I would recommend it for the classroom and school library.

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