Review: Earthling! / Written by: Mark Fearing, Tim Rummel / Art by: Mark Fearing / Format: Hardback / Published by: Chronicle Books (UK) / Release date: February
Do you remember that animated TV show from the 80s Galaxy High School? Yes? Good wasn’t it? I have often wondered why there hasn’t been a remake or some kind of film adaptation. In these idea starved times it must surely be in the works. Until that materialises we will have to make do with the charming kids’ graphic novel Earthling! Written and illustrated by Mark Fearing who co-created the story with Tim Rummel.
Our story begins with nine year old Bud moving to New Mexico with his astrologist father. You know that big desert with all the radar dishes in it from the film Contact? Yes, they move there. Moving to a new town and a new school Bud is understandably uneasy about making new friends. However he unwillingly gets on the wrong bus on his first day, a bus full of aliens that is bound for Cosmos Academy, a school in the outer reaches of space. Once on the bus, Bud bonds with alien Gort McGortGort and saves his life when they have to abandon the bus and get to escape pods to the academy. Gort learns that Bud is an earthling and decides to pass him off as a Tenarian exchange student. We learn that Earthlings are amongst the most hated and feared beings in this galaxy and the principal and his minions are constantly paranoid about being spied on by agents from Earth. Due to the students and teachers thinking Bud is a Tenarian, he is roped into taking part in the zero-ball tournaments which Tenarian’s are naturally good at and forms a team with Gort and a bunch of other outcasts who are not the popular aliens in the academy. Being rubbish at zero-ball starts to arouse suspicion from the teachers and brings Bud to the attention of the paranoid principal. Bud and Gort start to hatch a plan to get Bud back to Earth safely but it will mean that Bud has to get good at zero-ball (kind of a reverse basketball in anti-gravity by the way) in order to hijack a trip to a tournament. Will the principal find out Bud’s true identity and put him in stasis before they can complete their plan? I’m not going to tell you…
If you are nine years old then you are probably just the right age to get the most out of this book. The story isn’t complicated; it’s not layered with mythology and subtext. It’s a simple tale of a stranger in a strange land that will resonate with any kid who feels a little bit outside of the mainstream and like he is still trying to find where he slots in at school. There are a few long words that younger children might struggle with which mostly relate to interstellar travel but the book is ideal as something to read with the kids at bedtime over about a week or so.
The artwork is simple and unfussy which is something of a mixed blessing. At times it feels like the artist gave up trying to come up designing fun looking aliens and just decided to draw a bunch of vaguely humanoid blobs and pass them off as aliens. I mean, imagine if George Lucas had just done that! This becomes more apparent towards the end of the book with an action packed climax where you sometimes struggle to understand what is going on because of the similarity of a lot of the locations and the lack of speech. The drawings do have a certain charm to them though and reminded me of the rough but likeable style of the old art that used to accompany Roald Dahl books.
The plotting is simple and efficient, as previously mentioned Earthling! isn’t concerned with telling a mythology dense tale it just wants to thrill your inner nine year old and make you laugh and this it does with aplomb. Around the halfway point I became invested in the story and was excited to see where it went and if Bud’s true identity would get found out. The climax told over the last ten pages or so is genuinely epic and thrilling with plot revelations and a warm satisfactory climax.
Earthling! never shattered my universe but it did take me back to a simpler time and made me wish I was a kid so I could discover these sorts of stories all over again and as a result it’s hard not to like.