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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Contributed by various authors


Seven little gems in this box of a book
Seven little gems all fun.
Seven little gems full of possibilities
Seven little gems, must read.


The Mystery Boxes in the title is the theme of this book that collects seven unique stories ranging from funny to cheeky to creepy to philosophical edited by Kazu Kibuishi, written by various authors: Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, Emily Carroll, Jason Caffoe, Rad Sechrist, Stuart Livingston, Johane Matte.

The one thing common in all the stories is that it involves a mysterious box. What's in the box? Do we dare open it?

Under the Floorboards by Emily Carroll is quite creepy: the box under the floorboards holds an innocent-looking wax doll, but it is no ordinary plaything. While many versions of this story exist in the horror genre, the illustrations and storytelling, plus the refreshingly fitting ending makes this a pleasurable read.

Spring Cleaning by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier is a top favorite with the kids as it is a bit cheeky and funny and ends well. With droll wizards and Internet shopping, and a fairly regular kid, Oliver, who finds this mystery box while forced to clean out his closet, the story is straight and sweet, where lost loves get reunited with a little bit of magic afoot. When you cannot help but move from panel to panel in a hurry to find out what happens, the comic book has achieved its goal.

The Keeper's Treasure by Jason Caffoe brings the joy of possibilities, of anticipation, of uncertainty. The box could hold anything - from limitless wealth to terrible plague. Would you rather let the "Schrödinger's Cat" out of the box or is the mystery-of-not-knowing the real thrill you seek? Who is wiser-- the treasure-keeper who guards without any desire to look into the box or the treasure-seeker who opens it to find all the gold he desires?

The Butter Thief by Rad Sechrist is another big favorite with the kids, in this collection. The young Japanese girl, whose grandmother is convinced that there is a butter thieving spirit in the house, couldn't help herself. When Obasan traps the spirit in a box and buries it in the yard, the girl doesn't believe any of it. So, naturally, she digs it up and - opens the box! Of course, Melphador, the butter thief spirit is indignant when he is released from the box he was trapped in, so he turns her into a miniature creature. What follows is a very satisfying story that ends well.




The Soldier's Daughter by Stuart Livingston explores Shintoism and the mysteries of  life, death and beyond. Futility of war and vengeance is highlighted in a philosophical way that speaks without preaching.

Whatzit by Johane Matte looks at nepotism from a lighthearted perspective. Grandpa promotes his grandson to a more responsible job in his intergalactic factory, checking boxes against inventory before shipping. The other senior employees are miffed and they plant a mystery box with a Whatzit that wreaks havoc and gets the grandson in trouble. Of course, the grandson finds out about it and gets back at them. Simple and straight.

The Escape Option by Kazu Kibuishi spins a futuristic fable about a boy who is given the chance to escape from Earth that is doomed, only not by alien invasion but by environmental disasters. The alien who offers him the option doesn't tell him the whole truth, and just as well, because for the boy, escape is not an option. He chooses to stay and fix things so earth won't go belly up as the alien claimed.

Thumbnail bios on the last page lists these highly accomplished artists and their various works.

The joy of this book for me is to be able to sample various styles of art and storytelling in condensed and crystal form. My pet peeve about this book is that the stories are too short, and there were so few.

From bright cartoon-like illustrations bursting with colors to muted and hauntingly ethereal art that transports the reader to another world, the book is a treasure in itself. The picture above is just a quick look at the various styles -- clockwise from top left: Spring Cleaning, The Keeper's Treasure, The Butter Thief, and The Soldier's Daughter.

To think that each of these artists and storytellers were given a simple theme of a mystery box and see that they came up with such a widely varying set of stories is immensely breathtaking for me.


Explorer: The Lost Islands is the highly anticipated second book in this series , which collects seven stories on the theme of lost islands, some of which are by the same contributors as in Explorer: The Mystery Box.

[cover image source: Abrams Books]

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