Thursday, October 25, 2007


AUTHOR: Steve “Ghoulish” Niles
ILLUSTRATOR: Benjamin “Fiendish” Roman
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
GENRE: Comedy, Horror

ISSUE 1: Super Spooktacular Special
ISSUE 2: To Heck and Back
COLOR: Full color

Our mini-monsters (Drac Jr. Wolfy, Sea-boy and Jekyll/Hyde), offspring of the infamous adult creatures, are elementary students trying to make it through life. It can be heck at times what with all the rules of life and their quirky goings-on.

These titles are “for immature readers only!” Says so right on the front cover of issue 2. Such a declaration was enough to make me stop and take a look. Kids read for enjoyment, and as a teacher I cannot forget that fact. Reading is about more than the intake of specific information for the purposes of assessment at a later date. THE CRYPTICS is certainly fun and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the deeper meaning is that students learn to read well.

Vignette styling makes for a quick read. Some stories are a single page while others span the majority of the book. The boys play war with squirt and Nerf guns, only to be reprimanded by Ms. Feratu, Drac’s mother, because she simply loathes firearms, including play guns. She sends the boys to Drac’s dungeon bedroom to play with the maces, flails, electric chair and other miscellaneous mechanisms of death. Monster or not, the boys must still deal with childhood and manage to get out an “awwww, Mom” when things do not go their way. The boys also go to school, take tests, play tricks on one other, and get into all kinds of mischief. In one story, the boys, tired of Jekyll’s academic achievements and constant bragging, sneak some of his potion into his milk. By the time his test comes around, he has transformed into Hyde and all but the basic brain function is gone. He flunks the test.

After the first two issues, the characters are still a bit flat. This is probably due in part to the use of small stories as opposed to one story line per issue. It will take longer for the characters to develop. This is also because the stories focus more on plot than character development. I think it will take some time to see how the characters are flushed out, but I think this title is worth that wait. The boys will develop as time goes on. I really appreciate that the boys act like boys. I think kids will respond to that too.

The fanciful and almost whimsical nature of the illustrations is enticing. Neither too scary nor too cute, the characters all have the feel of typical human boys. The fact that they are the undead, part animal, or some form of monstrous creature is almost incidental, as far as the art is concerned. The illustrations are brilliant in that regard. The following examples are from issue 1.

My Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Rating: All ages
All Ages Reads: No rating
Comics in the Classroom: No rating

In issue 1 there are some choice words that may not fly with some teachers. They kids say “sucks” and one says that he is going to be “shaggin’ ass out of here” when on an adventure. There is also an exchange dealing with sex. Considering the Judy Blume brouhaha of years past, I’ll offer up the exchange and let you decide.

Wolfy: But I’ll say it again. It’s the scariest thing you’ll ever see.
Drac: Scarier than your parents make-out video?
Wolfy: That wasn’t them.
Drac: Sure, it was another Frankenstein bride and a werewolf getting it on.
Jekyll: You guys are so immature. Sexual intercourse is a perfectly natural …
Everyone: SHUT UP!

It is common for boys to talk about sex. They will tease one another about their parents having sex and will even make comments about one’s mother being attractive. However one might feel about such things, it is a common discussion in male circles.

I have no warnings for issue 2. There are no objectionable words or subjects.

A teacher can do good text-to… discussions with any books, but THE CRYPTICS seem especially good for text-to-self analysis. The characters are varied enough that students will be able to talk about which character they relate to the most. I stated earlier that the character development is a bit flat. That is true, but not so much so that children cannot begin to relate to them. As the title grows, so will the students’ understanding; they may even realign themselves with another character later on.

This is not a monthly title, but rather more haphazardly published. If you like it, then signing up for it at your local comic shop will ensure you get a copy when the next issue comes out if there is another issue.

ISSUE 1: Recommended with Reservations

Because the creators choose to use vignettes, the reader is not restricted to having to read every issue in order to keep up with the story. This is quite handy for a classroom. If one issue seems inappropriate, the teacher can simply not make that issue available to the students.

THE CRYPTICS offer good stories for kids. Monsters are interesting and kids need to explore typical childhood dialogue and mischief. Kids are pushed to be mature and self-governing, but it can be nice to read something as pure escapism and … entertainment. I will have copies of issue 2 available in my classroom and I am still debating about issue 1. I could also use an ELMO to read hand picked stories from issue 1. There’s good stuff for kids in THE CRYPTICS.

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