Awww! THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY is so friggin' adorable! The full title is actually THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY Book One: THE CASTLE OF GALOMAR, and it's a handsome looking, all-ages graphic novel. Co-created by writer Mark Andrew Smith and artist Matthew Weldon, this is an entirely kid-accessible story brimming over with magic and high adventure and, again, sheer adorability.
The kids are plucky and seem to be having a great time in these fantastic adventures. Even though there are scary creatures popping out here and there, a true sense of jeopardy isn't really invoked. You never get the feeling that the children will get hurt, just maybe frightened a bit. This makes it pretty perfect for the younger kids.
Four pre-teen kids. Joss and Cooper are of Chinese-American descent. Benny and Becca are Irish-American. When their famous explorer parents are presumed dead while on an expedition in Antarctica, these new orphans move in with their godparents, whose sprawling estate once upon a time was the childhood home of both sets of parents. While in a snowball fight, the kids stumble onto a hidden chamber and discover that their parents were members of something called the Brighton Archeological Society. It's pretty predictable, actually, that leap of thought which convince Joss and Cooper, Benny and Becca to resuscitate this club, to be like their moms and dads. And, from there, it's a short step to a grand adventure.
There is a Great Library full of magical books, and these books have become a bone of contention between the goblin kingdom and the fairy kingdom. And, it turns out, the families of the Brighton children have had ties to the Great Library. There's a sinister main adversary who will do anything to possess all the books belonging to the Great Library. This is something the parents of the Brighton kids have tried to keep from happening. So now there's a deadly mission involving the braving of a castle chock full of savage monsters. But in this castle is a map which can track these books. The kids don't hesitate to volunteer.
Not to compare this story too much to C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, but one of the things I liked best about the Narnia series was the sense of empowerment I felt when I read it as a kid. From THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE on, the various children protagonists were able to make hefty contributions in their respective desperate quests. Although, come to think of it, since NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY is set more or less in a comic book-type format, maybe it's more apt to mention Power Pack children, who are even more self-sufficient than the Brighton kids. The Brighton children do get massive help from Mitch the Goblin (who is a hoot), although the kids are more than willing to hold up their own end. There are magical monsters in this book, but I like that these monsters aren't always bested with violence. Mitch the Goblin's knowledge and application of certain rules and etiquette when dealing with these frightening creatures come in really handy.
At times THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY takes on the feel of an epic quest, but things are kept lighthearted enough that the mood doesn't ever get heavy handed or too somber. Not when you have ghosts who bus in an ice cream parlor and a giant kitten lurking in the woods and goblins addicted to butterscotch. Not when the youngest girl in our group proclaims that she doesn't believe in fairies, and the next panel shows a fairy clutching her chest and keeling over. Plenty of fun elements in these pages.
There are only two things which bug me here, otherwise I really recommend this graphic novel. I really like the art, which is deceptively simple looking, but observe the composition and how the simplicity of how the characters are drawn contrasts very nicely with the details in the background. The images somehow tend to be more dynamic because of this. My initial beef was that all the characters have heads disproportionately larger than their bodies, the kids AND the adults. It's like watching Bobblehead dolls spring into action. There were times when I had to do a double take to figure out if the characters were the kids or their parents. But, once you get past that, the art is really fantastic.
The second bugaboo is that there are occasional jarring transitional miscues. One scene would end and the next page starts off on its own tangent. The more grown up readers will adjust to this, but younger kids may be baffled for much longer. It's disorienting sometimes to have things end abruptly.