On the Air
(Wilson Place Comics)
US: Dec 2003
C’mon, protest this. I dare ya.
When creating a medium for kids, the kids are really the last people you really have to impress. I’m sure that given carte blanche, any number of comic-book writers could have a fairly easy time writing something for kids that would really grab their interest by appealing to the same thing we do in adults—the lowest common denominator. However, society frowns upon too much in the way of decapitation and swear words in our modern children’s fare, so writing for children really becomes a matter of writing for their parents. After all, the parents are the actual consumers anyway. WJHC takes this tightrope act one step further—this is a graphic novel (!) that could easily be kept in a grade school library. Written by Jane Smith Fisher and penciled by Kirsten Petersen, this 96-page, full color book is like an after-school cartoon you can pick up and read. Compiling the first five issues, WJHC has a nice episodic feel that isn’t reliant on all the other issues to convey the story.
WJHC, the last three letters of which stands for Jackson Hill Crowd, is a radio station set up by a pack of enterprising youngsters at the Jackson Hill Junior High to play music over the school’s PA. Revolted by the “Lawrence Welk Hit Parade” endlessly trickling from the school’s speakers, the Entrepreneurial Janey Wells and her fashionista friend Ciel Chin-King hit up their principal, Mrs. Bort, for a crack at an in-school radio station. Unfortunately, their principal won’t give them a budget so they are forced to turn to Janey’s Nemesis, Tara O’Toole (who evokes echoes of “The Princess” from the Powerpuff Girls) to draw upon her Daddy’s swollen bank accounts to get the necessary equipment to begin. Throw in the blundering engineer Roland Drayton, the lovestruck fix-it man Sandy Diaz, and the too-cool-for-school Beatnik DJ, “the Skate” (clearly the Wolverine of this piece, dark, mysterious and a the best there is at what he does), and things are off and running. The Kids have various adventures, like trying to find talent for an after-school concert, or getting stranded on a mountain when their bus takes a wrong turn. It’s a fun read, if a bit quick, and these characters would certainly work well as happy meal toys.
The series does a good job of making Jackson Hill a believable microcosm, a sort of Gotham or Metropolis for the Osh Kosh B’Gosh crowd. I’m not sure if it’s based on a real town or not, but you get a good sense of where things are both physically and socially in the little town. I’m also endlessly grateful that the musical groups were just made up and we weren’t subjected to some “Britany Gears” or “Reece’s Piece” approximation. I don’t know why that sort of stuff bugs me, it just does.
The art style draws the characters in such a way as to be a stylized as possible while still letting each of them retain some individuality, which is kind of cool, and again, very evocative of a TV series. The colors are beautiful and vivid, and give everything in the stories an animated quality. Even when things are trashed—and they often are—the art is still brilliant.
There are a few “extras” tossed into the book as well. The WJHC scrapbook is a fun diversion with little tidbits about the characters, and an additional story, “WJHC Before the Bell”, a silent tale of the characters’ morning rituals that brought back eerie memories of my own bleary-eyed journeys in the mornings of my youth.
WJHC is not really a book for comic book fans. It’s a step in the right direction for the whole medium, rather, a comic for kids that no human in his or her right mind could find any fault with. It’s not gratuitous, gory, violent, or untoward in any conceivable way, the diametric opposite of everything that’s gotten the industry in trouble over the years. If you’re a comic fan, pay it some respect for that. If you’re a parent, give it a look.
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