Are you too cool for school, or too school for cool? Meet the kids and teachers of Astronaut Academy in Dave Roman’s cool new graphic novel Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity. It’s a collection of strips from Roman’s webcomic Astronaut Elementary. Their stories are told with dialogue that comes straight out of Japanese manga strips, as if they were poorly translated into English, but on purpose, for comic effect. This makes for some genuinely funny gags that elevate Roman’s book above the norm. Space may be “the final frontier,” but it’s also a place where school is much like it is anywhere on Earth–except for being much more entertaining. And the cover features Roman’s art with a reflective silvery background that you can use to send SOS signals if you ever get lost in the desert, if you happen to have a copy of the book with you, so it doubles as a great survival tool, as well.
The graphic novel is told in a series of short stories, told from the perspectives of the students and teachers at the Astronaut Academy. They are loosely linked together by the strips that feature the former space hero Hakata Soy, and those strips related to him, like ones about the creation of a cyborg student to assassinate him. Hakata Soy is not Japanese, but Dave Roman gives him and some of the other characters Japanese-sounding names. I doubt if there are any actual Japanese people with the last name of “Soy,” though.
One of the teachers is a panda bear who teaches Spanish. Or, does he? Well, not very–er–well. That’s because he is actually an undercover agent, and teaching students Spanish is not his main (or even secondary) concern. He gives one of the female students a watch (called “Mr. Watch”) to travel in time, and to stop time, that she uses to communicate with a (very) slightly younger version of herself, and to help rescue Hakata when Cybert (the cyborg’s name) goes all laser-beam killy-killy on him. Luckily, Hakata’s nylon jacket offers him and two of his fellow classmates protection, as it’s been slightly modified to provide him with a defense against lasers.
Doug Hiro is one of the odder students there, though they’re each unique in their own special ways. He likes to wear his space suit wherever he goes, because he loves space and the stars and finds anything to do with space fascinating. Wearing it comes in especially useful when the intercom announces a potential impending disaster, and the students are told to go to their lockers and put their spacesuits on. This is after partnering up, and having to–yuck–hold hands with their partners to float in low gravity to their lockers.
Hakata Soy is the new student at the school, arriving at the start of the graphic novel a month into the semester via the spaceship-shaped schoolbus that transports the students to school. He just wants to fit in, and leave his life as a hero behind. He was a part of a team of heroes who Transformer-like formed themselves into a giant robot to save a planet of rabbits from villainous bird people.
Then, there’s Miyumi San, to whom the panda gives Mr. Watch, and there’s a rich stuck-up girl, Maribele Mellonbelly, who considers Miyumi her archenemy. Maribele is the kind of girl you might have in your own class, or remember knowing, someone you love to hate, though she’s not one hundred percent bad. And besides Miyumi, Hakata, Maribelle, and Doug Hiro, there are several other characters who have their own strips in the book, each of them interesting and cool, who you’ll love reading about. The students are all drawn, like the PowerPuff girls, without noses.
The things I liked most about Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity is the sense of humor throughout the book and the situations Roman depicts, like first crushes, being the new kid at school, the loner, the jock, etc. We can all relate to things like that, though we all haven’t, of course, been to space, nor have we had (I hope you haven’t, anyway, had) a cyborg try to kill us with lasers. Another thing I also loved was how Dave Roman pokes fun at Japanese manga in a playful way.
Maybe one day, your kids or grandkids will get to go to school in space, like the students of the Astronaut Academy! Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity is a graphic novel with sly humor, wonderful, three-dimensional characters, and anyone who loves graphic novels should add this one to your reading lists. There’s already a sequel in the works, that will be called Astronaut Academy: Re-entry, and Dave Roman already has plans for a third book! I can hardly wait to read them, and if you’re like me, you’ll feel the same way once you’ve read Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity.