I first got to know (and learned how to pronounce the last name of) Boston area cartoonist Jef Czekaj (check-eye) when I interviewed him for the late Comics Interpreter and talked about his hilarious mini-comic now remembered in press releases as Hypertruck but better known then as R2-D2 Is an Indie Rocker. Even then, he was starting his children’s based work, co-founding the Somerville Comics Collective youth program and starting his long run at the late Nickelodeon magazine with Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters. I lost track of his career for a bit, but he came up on my radar recently when a friend’s daugher asked me to read a book she had just gotten. That’s when I found out about the impressive list of children’s books Czekaj has authored and/or illustrated.
A Call for a New Alphabet is published by Charlesbridge and is one of two books by Czekaj this month. After not seeing his work for so long, I got to see how far his drawing has come since his first mini comics (though those always moved from strength to strength with each issue). At the same time, he has also maintained and honed his comics language and his storytelling. It should also be noted that his dialogue is as sharp as ever.
The book focuses on the sentient alphabet world, especially X, who perceives his role as minor and calls for a new order and reassignment of duties to the current alphabet. I found it funny, snappy, and clever in its approach to teaching how letters are used. I read this to my friend’s daughter in one sitting, going through a number of voices for nearly all the letters. I asked her if she liked it.
What did you like most about it?
“I dunno. Hey, wanna hear a joke?” She then read a riddle from a book of Christmas related jokes. It had little to do with the holidays, but that’s a review for another blog I don’t update enough.
One other big positive for the book is the low cover price for the paper back. Only $5.95 for nearly 40 pages of full color, which is a better price than many comics with the same (or lesser) page count. It makes me hope that more small press comics creators get subversive and hop on the children’s book wagon.
The friend’s daughter let me borrow the book for the review. I left her feeling that I was perhaps a bigger fan of the book than its intended audience. Plus she had her copy signed, which made me jealous.