Salt Water Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack & Benny, #1: The Legend of Old Salty
by Matthew Loux (Oni, 2008)

Matthew Loux's Salt Water Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack & Benny is the sort of comic that gets maligned as being "an all-ages romp" or, worse, "fun for the whole family." Which is true, but unfortunate. "All ages" has become associated with dull, placid stories where people learn the value of teamwork, and often a cute animal inexplicably talks to deliver half-funny jokes.

But as young brothers Jack and Benny soon discover, The Legend of Old Salty is a very different sort of story. From the time they pull into town, they find characters more often associated with late-night horror movies than afternoon cartoons. Chowder Bay is an isolated town with strange secrets. There's a grizzled old sea captain with a grudge against a legendary sea monster. There are strange faceless men from the government investigating mysterious thefts, coordinated cabals of crustaceans, intrepid reporters, even a slight touch of gunplay.

And it's an all-ages adventure that's fun for the whole family.

Part of that is due to Loux's wonderful, dynamic art. In black and white, he delivers buoyant linework that shouts action in every panel and wildly expressive faces that make the main characters instantly sympathetic. Part of it is due to the characters themselves, who face the strangest problems with a cheerful pragmatism that never seems forced or cynical. And part of it must just be the magic of Chowder Bay itself, a town that is many things, but never boring.

So forget the usual problems with family-safe stories, and stop by Chowder Bay. OK, there are some talking lobsters that are kind of cute. But they don't moralize. There are no sledgehammer morals here, no trite plot complications. Just monsters and secret agents and great old ghost stories unfolding in the most fantastic summer vacation spot on the map. And some really good Salt Water Taffy.

review by
Sarah Meador

24 October 2009

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