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Required Reading: Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity

Floating aimlessly in space never looked like so much fun!

By / Posted on 01 June 2011

Astronaut Academy: Zero GravityDave Roman knows a lot about all-ages entertainment. 11 years as comics editor for Nickelodeon Magazine and countless panels and presentations on all-ages comics, Roman has proven time and time again that there is a charming section of entertainment that is equally appealing to children as it is to adults (see: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, most Pixar films). While Dave has collaborated with his network of brilliant friends on comics in the past (Agnes Quill, Teen Boat, Life Meter Comics, Bizarro World, Flight), Astronaut Academy is his first solo affair, a complete book written and drawn by Roman.

On its surface, Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity (the first book in a proposed series, a redrawn and refined version of Roman’s webcomic Astronaut Elementary) is the story of a bunch of kids going to school on a space station in the future. What Roman has done as a welcome surprise, though, is craft the stories within as vignetted character studies, diving into the heart of what makes the many students of Astronaut Academy unique and compelling personalities before ultimately tying them all together into a more grand adventure. Equally reminiscent of the preteen character drama of Doug and over-explanatory hilarious action of Speed Racer and Gatchaman, Zero Gravity is an authentic and heartfelt love letter to youthful imaginations worldwide.

Astronaut Academy's Doug HiroRoman’s line art is appropriately simplistic. Fat lines and simple features allow for the world to be more cute and cartoony than it is hard-edged science fiction. The fantastical futuristic setting primarily exists to allow for more adventurous feats like dinosaur racing and games of fireball (not unlike Harry Potter’s Quidditch or Ender’s titular Games) that would make any kid moan “I wish I went to Astronaut Academy…” The conflicted and self-aware emotions of the colorful cast often make Astronaut Academy feel like “Peanuts” in space, and that is by no means a bad thing. From troubled loner Hakota Soy to privileged rich girl Maribelle Mellonbelly, secretly-sensitive jock Tak Offsky to Spanish instructor Señor Panda (an actual panda), every character is compelling and interesting. Children and adults alike will find bits of themselves or the people they know on every page, and the cartoony art makes it all the easier to project those feelings onto the cast. (See Scott McCloud’s theory on graphic simplification versus detailed illustration in Understanding Comics)

Astronaut Academy's Miyuki San

Astronaut Academy's CybertDon’t think that it’s all just cute character studies, though. There’s a fair amount of soul-searching, foreshadowing, and plot twists along the way, with the larger connected story involving time travel, lifelong rivalries, unrequited love and several explosions. Astronaut Academy is an absolute delight from start to finish, guaranteed to please fans of Peanuts, Harry Potter, and any Saturday morning cartoon ever.

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity is available in book stores nationwide June 7th, published by First Second Books. Preorder on Amazon now!

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.