Akiko, Vol. 4:
The Story Tree

by Mark Crilley
(Sirius, 2000)

Mark Crilley begins his fourth volume of Akiko's adventures with a by-now familiar setup. Akiko, earth schoolgirl extraordinaire, is minding her own business when her extraterrestrial friends stop by and interrupt her routine. This is usually the beginning of a new adventure in outer space for Akiko. But this time Akiko, who's been the center of attention for three volumes now, puts her friends under the spotlight, or at least under The Story Tree.

An earthbound picnic seems to put everyone in a nostalgic frame of mind, and soon the whole alien crew is revealing stories about their sometimes glorified past. The scholarly Mr. Beeba reveals a past as a daring treasure hunter, along with an embarrassing old nickname. Space cowboy Spuckler leaps headfirst into a planetary revolution, pursuing justice, ship repairs and a rare hint of romance. Ploog, the enigmatic floating head, remembers days spent back home and offers one more hint about the extent of his own powers. Perhaps the best story comes from Gax, Spuckler's battered old robot. Gax too remembers his days as leader of a rebellion -- a rebellion driven by the raw fury and power of maintenance technology.

The Story Tree is an excellent starting point for new readers to the Akiko story. Free of ongoing plots and lengthy backstory entanglements, it offers Crilley's wonderfully strange characters a chance to romp about the alien world of Earth while sharing tales of adventure from worlds far away in space and scientific theory. Crilley's worlds teem with imaginative detail to rival Frank Baum's Oz, and every panel of art in The Story Tree captures the wonder of a traveling dragon-city, the polite despair of abandoned space or the devious wiles of squirrels. Crilley's work is stylized but heavily detailed, and his use of grey tones evokes the soft touch of watercolors more than the mechanics of a computer mouse or the sharp edge of knife-cut shading.

Crilley is always one of the few creators whose work is really appealing for readers of all ages, and The Story Tree is a good buy for readers at any stage of familiarity with Akiko's story. There's not likely to be another book that makes spaceship battles, alien marketplaces and gardening all into thrilling adventures, and none will do it with as much feeling as Akiko and her friends.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 23 April 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.