Sparkplug Highlights: Neptune, by Aron Nels Steinke
Aron Nels Steinke possesses a rare talent: he has the ability to create stories that will appeal to children and adults in equal measure. This talent is exercised magnificently in his first graphic novel, Neptune. Co-published by Sparkplug Books and Tugboat Press, Neptune is a quirky, adorable tale about a precocious young girl named Erika, her brother, Patrick, and their dog, Neptune. The story begins with Erika starting at a new school and having to tell her classmates who she is and where she comes from. She decides to tell the story of how she was expelled from her last school, and the reader is instantly swept up in her strange and compelling yarn. Everything revolves around the mysterious Neptune, who appears in the kids’ home one morning and quickly proves himself to be a loyal and faithful friend. After following the siblings to school, though, an incident occurs with the strict administration and a terrible storm floods the town, forcing the trio to find their way home alone. The bizarre series of events leads to their expulsion and subsequent move to Oregon, and everything seems like it will be alright…but what happens when Erika brings Neptune in to meet her new class? Stienke, surely drawing on his own experience teaching young children, perfectly imitates the way children tell stories: with the utmost conviction and belief in what they are saying, even if their version of the events seems fantastical or impossible.
Steinke’s art also successfully straddles the line between children’s and adult comics. His rounded shapes and simple characters ensure an easily understandable visual story, but his intricate textures, repeated patterns, and inventive panel layouts and splash pages will appeal to more sophisticated artistic eyes. Neptune is a delightful little book that will make you fondly remember the stories you told as a child; it will also make you want to go hug a big, friendly dog.