Question: When is a dog not a dog? Answer: When it’s two cats.
And that’s not the only surprising thing in this fun graphic novel as the book’s opening lines read, “I am a litter box and this is my story!” And though Litter Box may be the novel’s narrator, Sparks! is really the adventurous tale of two cats, August and Charlie, who find themselves having to save the world from being conquered by an alien that has adopted the guise of a human baby. August, the eighth in a litter of 12, is a timid house cat whereas Charlie, a stray outdoor cat, is the much braver of the pair. Sparks! begins with the pair’s rescuing a baby from the bottom of a well while they are both inside a special superhero-type robotic dog suit that August has created. What the pair didn’t know is that the entire rescue scenario had been a trap laid to capture August, a cat, whom the “baby”, aka Princess, was going to use to lead its animal takeover of the world, but, to the baby’s surprise and that of its two “caregivers”, a “dog” had appeared instead. “Sparks”, as the “dog” comes to be named, continues to be involved in a series of Princess-created crises.
From time to time, Litter Box interrupts the main narrative to provide readers with chapters that address the felines’ backstory, especially that of August who had been catnapped and experimented upon in the aliens’ lab. These chapters also explain how Litter Box became part of the team, August’s intelligence, plus the whys and hows of the dog suit’s creation. That Charlie is up front as the suit’s driver while August occupies the dog’s rear portion offers some opportunities for humour. Naturally, August and Charlie, with some assistance from Litter Box, outwit Princess who must call for extraction from Earth but not before exclaiming, “You haven’t defeated me! I will return! And when I do, you’ll regret ever resisting.” A nice touch is Boothby’s having Litter Box provide a concluding tie-up chapter in which readers are updated on the characters’ current status, including that of Princess, now in its octopus-like normal form.
Though Sparks! is essentially nonstop action, Boothby does not overlook character development. Tension develops between the timid August and the more outgoing Charlie when the latter wants their Sparks’ persona to be able to bask in some post-heroics public adulation while August fears lingering could lead to their unmasking. The differences in intelligence between the two cats also causes some problems in their working and personal relationships. Steve-O, a squirrel and one of the animals August released from the lab, provides additional comic relief. Always hungry, the squirrel appears to be the cats’ ally in the battle with Princess before being revealed as the alien’s involuntary agent. A human character who keeps popping up is Denise Densford, a field reporter for Channel 7, who hopes that her coverage of Sparks, as she names the dog”, will advance her TV career.
Nina Matsumoto’s comic-like illustrations dynamically propel the storyline while visually providing setting and reinforcing mood. Sparks! will appeal to its intended audience, including those new to reading who may be intimidated by pages of solid print.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.