Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity
written by Dave Roman
What's it like to go to elementary school in outer space with robots and zero-gravity classes and explosions and space monkeys and a teacher who's a panda?
It's pretty much like any elementary school, only with more robots and space monkeys. And maybe with more fun.
Dave Roman (probably best known for writing the graphic novel Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery) brings a lot of goofy, manga-influenced humor to Astronaut Academy, the first book he has both written and drawn.
As you might expect from the name, it's all set at a floating elementary school in the middle of outer space. The kids attending the school are smart and interesting, with a collection of motivations as varied and as outlandish as normal kids. Fresh face Hakata Soy (a former adventurer) just wants to fit in. Miyumi San dresses for success and wants to learn everything she can. Marcos Stamatis has a broken heart and wants to impress a girl from his Rocket Science class. Maribele Mellonbelly is rich but lonely. Doug Hiro just wants to be alone long enough to enjoy the silence and wonder of space.
There's not so much a plot to Astronaut Academy as a bunch of little stories. The book is episodic, with a string of short stories, anecdotes, and character pieces ranging from one page on to six or ten. It's a great way to introduce a large cast—each person (or robot) gets their time to shine—while also building some ongoing themes and conflicts that come to a head in the final third of the book, when many of the plot threads start to come together.
Astronaut Academy first appeared as a webcomic called "Astronaut Elementary"—which is still online here—which probably contributed to its episodic nature. But that may also be its strength. It feels at times like a joke book—lots of kid-friendly gags and bits of wonder that should play nicely for children with limited attention spans. But the characters build and flow and each anecdote picks up on what came before it to form a pretty crazy quilt of weirdness and intertwined relationships that make the book hard to put down.
Despite the fact that much of Astronaut Academy is available online, I recommend the graphic novel. The art has been heavily enhanced with gray tones for book publication, which adds just the right amount of special effects that help the artwork pop and give it a polished look that should appeal to kids, even with its lack of color.
This is the first book in a series, and it's sure to be a fun one for kids to return to again and again. The characters are alive, the humor is giddy, the dialog is full of bad puns, the settings are imaginative, and the action (once it gets started) is full of adventure without any danger. It's like life, but with more robots and pandas.