Mal and Chad Vol. 1:
The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever
Buy on Amazon.com
I like talking dogs.
This is not a hard and fast rule, but if your book has a talking dog in it, I’m more than likely going to like it. If I don’t like it, I probably will have wanted to like it. So I was kind of predisposed to like Stephen McCranie‘s Mal and Chad Vol. 1: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever (Philomel Books, 2011). But talking dog or no, I still probably would’ve loved it.
Mal (short for Malcolm) is a misfit elementary school pupil who is more predisposed to invent rocket packs and time machines than he is to do his homework. Chad is his faithful, slightly sarcastic and absolutely adorable talking dog. The two of them go back and time and befriend (or not, as the case may be) dinosaurs as well as deal with the bullying Zachary (although Zachary — somewhat refreshingly — just wants to prove he’s smarter than Mal) and Mal’s unrequited crush on the big-eyed Megan.
All of this happens under the less-than-watchful-but-loving eye of Mal’s hard-working (and I presume) single mother. Mal’s a handful but she doesn’t put up with much.
McCranie’s art is delightful and childlike — Mal is all exaggerated gestures and facial expressions in a heavy black line, but his excitement is our excitement. McCranie allows us to reveals in one of Mal’s ridiculous invention after another (a normal-sized rubber ducky that becomes a giant rubber ducky that’s big enough to ride on, an old elevator that’s a time machine). Mal’s bright-eyed enthusiasm is fun. He’s pleased with his own intelligence but he has every right to be. He’s a kid who’s just trying to find his place in a world that hasn’t quite caught up with him yet (Mal has his lunch by a bust of Einstein, which he talks to. It’s sweeter than it should be). Chad the dog is not too knowing or smart — he’s a dog — but nor is he stupid. McCranie shifts him from cartoon-like to more realistic. We never forget Chad’s a dog and he’s a great one at that.
Love interest Megan doesn’t get much page time but she plays an essential role, and any girl who can pull off a move such as the “Flaming Dodge Bomb” during dodge ball is probably a bit more than she appears to be. She seems to be a worthy equal to Mal and I’d like to read a comic that is just about her.
Also? Did I mention there are dinosaurs? McCranie draws playfully realistic dinosaurs that are a great contrast to the more stylized Mal and Chad. And I mean, this comic has dinosaurs, which is, of course, awesome.
Mal and Chad is too much fun. It’s fairly innocent, but never cloyingly so. I’d be curious to see who Mal (and Chad, for that matter) grow up to be, but I absolutely want to see more of their adventures while they’re in that process. Mal shows you that being a smart kid is a pretty great thing and I have no complaints about that.
Advanced reading copy provided by the publisher.