When Craig Thompson won a 2012 Pacific Northwest Book Award for the graphic novel Habibi, the awards committee declared that the book “should take its place alongside groundbreaking classics, such as Maus and Persepolis.” Praise doesn’t get any higher in the graphic book arena.
I’m not certain a middle grade (and up!) cosmic adventure featuring space lumberjacks, humanoid chickens and cinnamon dental floss as a defense weapon will garner similar critical attention, but the graphic extravaganza that is Thompson’s Space Dumplins is more than galactic fluff.
It’s a smart and sweet family story with a lot to say about human-centered systems. The socioeconomic injustices and environmental politics of space ring awfully sublunary.
Thompson’s astronomical aesthetic is built on a solidly earthbound nostalgia. Where steampunk style employs functional and fashionable anachronistic technology, Thompson’s vision utilizes the broken bits and discarded artifacts of the past—steamjunk.
The story’s Mucky Way trash belt is a floating landfill of source material minutiae. I’m certain he’s hidden jokes or tributes, but the spread is too dense to optically sort without going cross-eyed.
That Portland colorist Dave Stewart ever completed his rich frosting of Thompson’s intricate sketches is a miracle of focus and a steady hand. That’s why he’s one of the best—and probably doesn’t drink coffee.
After nearly two decades in Portland, Thompson moved to Los Angeles this spring after handing this book off to his publisher, so he won’t be winning another NW regional award. That’s okay, because the appeal of Space Dumplins is universal.
—NWBL contributing editor Brian Juenemann, adapted from the August edition of “The Local Shelf,” The Register-Guard