The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook, by Eleanor Davis

We have many new graphic novels just added to the collection, but I want to clear out a backlog of excellent kids books I was holding aside to add to the ‘canon’ of really top-notch timeless all-ages books that should not be missed.

outwardly a nerd

One more in the category of ‘instant classics’  is Eleanor Davis’  action-science nerd-‘venture:   The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook (2009, Bloomsbury USA).

Ultra-nerd Julian Calendar fears persecution in his new school, and tries to hide that proverbial light under a bushel basket.  His clever plan is to play dumb in order to fit in at the new school.  And ‘plan’  is the right word, he approaches the problem like a science experiment, an anthropological study of other tweens:   what is the science of ‘fitting in’ ?

Of course he fails to blend in for very long, and in a distracted moment of reverie accidentally outs himself as a genius, attracting unwanted attention.  However,  when his cover is blown, it seems he finds an ally or two in unlikely places, and a natural conspiracy is formed.

The plot is friendly easygoing fare.  Davis does a workmanlike job peopling her world with interestingly flawed characters.  Protagonist Julian Calendar is outwardly a nerd, a nebbishy social bumbler with low-self esteem, but inwardly he’s a a loveable mess; a geek of the highest caliber, in the best sense of the word geek, an ‘ultra-nerd’ with the bonafides to prove it.

Said bonafides are detailed in a cross-sectional diagram of Julian’s brain — and this is where Davis’  brilliance really crackles.   Amusing marginal notes and creative panel lay-outs detail the minutia of her character’s internal workings, packing pages with a density of detail seen only in the drawings of Sergio Aragones  (Groo the Barbarian, and in the margins of Mad Magazine) or Rube Goldberg’s spectacular blueprints.  Yet Ms Davis’ clean lines and sense of page balance  renders all as easily instantly understood as a pie chart or magazine infographic.

Better still she imagineers interestingly plausible rubberband and bike sprocket technology.  The Secret Science Alliance clubhouse is crammed to the rafters with tactilely enjoyable gadgetry.  A second sub-plot evolves to give the second half of the book something to do (a famous inventor steals their ideas for his own, and the sciency scamps putter along on the Scooby-Doo-esque plot) .  But I for one would have been happy to flip through page after page of their backyard crafts.

the enjoyably cluttered SSA

You can find more work on the web by both Eleanor Davis and her husband (inker of  this book and artist in his own right)  Drew Weing (I’m eagerly awaiting a copy of his graphic novel ‘Set to Sea’ — Fantagraphics 2010).  Some of her online work is more suitable for an adult audience, but is excellent in its own right and hints of great projects to come in future years.  I’d love to see what she might do with a young adult or mature release in long form.


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