Xu, Ru. Newsprints. New York: Scholastic, 2017.
Full Disclosure: I was mailed complimentary copies of both the black and white uncorrected proof and trade paperback editions of NewsPrints. I do not have any direct connection to Scholastic or Graphix, and I received neither monetary compensation nor a formal request to review this book.
NewsPrints, the debut graphic novel by Ru Xu (creator of Saint for Rent), will not disappoint readers looking for a truly memorable and charismatic heroine. Blue is an orphan girl, adopted by the mayor of the city of Nautilene and his wife, and raised among several boys, all of whom are newsies working to sell papers for the Nautilene Bugle. To all the world but a select few confidants, Blue is known as a newsie and a boy, and she wants to keep it that way so she can continue being a newsboy. Through a series of adventures, Blue encounters and befriends a quirky inventor named Jack (whom we will also learn is a soldier), a strange young boy named Crow, as well as the daughter of an important admiral. Throughout the course of the story, we learn the true and sometwhat troubling identities of Jack the inventor and Crow the boy, and the decisions Blue makes regarding Jack’s identity, Crow’s identity, and her own identity shape the second half and ending of this book.
NewsPrints to me has an “animated” quality to the art, pacing, and flow of the story. And I mean literally animated. It makes me think of an animated TV show for several reasons. There is not much exposition in this book, which I think works very well for younger readers. There is plenty of action and the dialog is very quickly paced and natural. The story is set in the Imperial Goswing Empire, which is a kind of steampunkish, early 20th-century, Jazz Age alternate universe, which makes me think of similarly alternative-universe movies by Hayao Miyazaki. I also couldn’t help but think of Star Blazers when I saw the Admiral for the first time. And of course, there’s the movie Newsies. There is even a montage like you would see in a movie (pages 21-24) where we see Blue learning to be Jack’s assistant and friend over the course of several days. Looking at the black & white uncorrected proof copy of NewsPrints, there was also a distinct storyboard quality to the art. The black and white art also reminds me of animation cells. To the best of my knowledge Ru Xu colored this graphic novel herself, and I think she did a wonderful job. I think the black and white art, like an animation cell, is an empty vessel waiting for the color. I am not sure this book would work in black and white, but I don’t think that was ever the plan. I think you can’t separate the lines and the color in this work, together they are beautiful, vibrant, and again makes me think of animation. In fact, I would love to see this book adapted into an animated series.
Another strength of this book is Ru Xu’s striking a balance of elements (characters, scenery, back story, etc.) that enrich the world in which the comic is set but that do not need to be taken too seriously or studiously. You don’t need to know the political history of Goswing, you just have to let yourself be transported there. The war that is going on, the Mayor and his family of orphans,the rival Newsie gangs, even the omnipresence of birds in the story, they all add to the wonderful backdrop of the book, but you don’t have to take notes while reading the book, because really this is Blue’s story, and I think that comes to the forefront in the second half of the book. Because our hero, Blue, is dealing with growing up and hiding a secret of
his, rather her own identity. She’s no newsboy, she’s a newsgirl! However, like a true hero, she puts her own troubles aside when those around her are in trouble, even those whom she’s just met. As a heroine, Blue’s super power is her fierce sense of friendship, loyalty, and equality for all.
Although I immediately took to Blue as the main character, I have to admit that it took me a while to get invested in the larger story in the first half of the book. It was not slow or uninteresting by any means, but I wasn’t sure exactly where is was heading. I kept going with the help of the connections/allusions I saw to the legend of Fa Mu Lan, Pinnochio, Edward Scissorhands, and the really lovely splash pages that punctuate the book. I truly love the nautilus imagery, the beauty of the shell, the configuration of the city called Nautilene, the map of the city, and the super awesome tracking device that Jack creates to keep tabs on Blue, which doesn’t quite work out that way. And when you see Jack’s flying machine, the nautilus imagery really comes together in a wonderful way.
I think the visual introduction of the flying machine (when you get to see it in all its glory) is also when the story shrinks in a good way, because we get to the heart of the matter of the friendship between Blue and Crow, and what Blue is willing to do for her friends. The book speeds up dramatically in the second half with revelations about the characters, the larger ramifications of their decisions, and the book essentially turns into an action-packed chase scene. I was left a bit unfulfilled by the resolution (or rather the lack of resolution) of the fate of Crow, but the ending of the book leads me to believe (hopefully!) that Ru Xu will be back to continue the story in a second volume.
Overall, NewsPrints was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Because the action of the war takes place off-stage, and because Ru Xu uses kid-friendly swearing (GOOD GOOSE BUMPS!), this book would be perfect for younger readers. And as I have already mentioned, I think the “animated” quality of the book only makes it more accessible and enticing to readers, young and old, who enjoy animated TV series, endearing characters, and a rip-roaring adventure. You can purchase Ru Xu’s NewsPrints HERE.