Cartoonist: Mike Barry
Publisher: Self-Published/Scout Comics
WHAT IS IT?
This book is a sci-fi fairytale aimed at young readers, ages 7 to 12, including those who might be new to comics and graphic novels.
Action Tank has a sense of innocence and imagination found in classic children's picture books like Danny and the Dinosaur, combined with the action and courage of science fiction adventure books like Zita the Space Girl.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A little boy wakes up on an alien world, without any idea how he got there, and finds himself wearing a strange set of powerful armor. When a giant red carnivore tries to eat him, he discovers just a fraction of what the Action Tank Adventure Suit is capable of and jumps over a cliff with only an Indestructible Shield to save him.
All-in-all, a pretty exciting start to his afternoon.
The story follows this unnamed boy as he makes friends with a mysterious black-robed figure named Rex, is faced with a puzzle at the bottom of the Two Million Degree Lake, searches for a Super Adventure Pilot, and finds his courage and patience put to the test.
Can some kid from Hillcrest Lane cut it as an Astro Action Cadet? Can he trust anything, or anyone, in this bizarre place? And how can he possibly cross 4.2 billion kilometres of space?
Barry takes a simple story, one that could easily have been too shallow for his audience, and keeps it compelling by slowly adding new layers to just about every aspect of the book as the tale goes on.
The art really makes the most of the space that the length of a graphic novel gives, using impressive double- and full-page spreads that spotlight what’s happening and acting as major moments for characters, events, and scenery.
Color is an essential part of how Barry tells this story, using it to mark different stages in the young protagonist’s adventures and draw attention to major story elements, and he manages to make the most of it in subtle ways.
The page formatting is a delight, each one crafted to present what is happening in a way that enhances the story rather than distracting from it. There’s not a single “default” panel structure in the book.
The only major piece of exposition in the book is surprising, and perhaps a bit convenient, but manages to be entertaining and help reinforce the tone that the book is working to build.
As hinted at in previous points, the book has a definite flow that really works to build investment in the story and make it engaging for readers at both ends of the intended age range; there is a rough and simple story with plenty of big bold action, but you also see characters get more fleshed out and questions introduced that should grab the attention of older readers.
I really liked that the puzzle our hero is faced with was presented so that the reader is given a chance to try and figure it out for themselves, even if it does take a bit of thinking outside the box, and the answer is only revealed when they flip the page.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
The simple illustration style is great for the most part, and is appropriate for the book, but there are a number of scenes where characters are stiff enough that they look more like they are striking a pose than taking an action.
Barry’s story very much relies on a bit of fairy tale logic in order to work, to accept the improbable and unexplained in order to engage with the challenges presented, and this could be a problem for older kids if they are inclined to see such things as childish.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Action Tank is a wonderful little story that was obviously a labor of love, carefully crafted with a very specific younger audience in mind. It’s got a straightforward story with some great action sequences, not to mention an all-ages sense of humor, and it also presents a tale of adventure and courage that almost any child can picture themselves in. It’s also an incredible introduction to reading western comic books, for readers of any age. By starting his story with some of the most simple uses of basic visual storytelling in existence, a few words and a simple image, he places the barrier of entry at the lowest possible setting. With this baseline in place, he proceeds to casually introduce a few decades' worth of artistic tools & tricks in a way that feels entirely intuitive rather than experimental or complicated.
For a long-time reader of comics these decisions almost disappear into the background, notable mostly in how quick and easy it is to absorb, but for someone new to the medium it is one visual treat after another. If you want something to share with a young comic fan, to create a young comic fan, or just enjoy a well-crafted and simple story, this is a book worth checking out.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
PS238, Vol. 1: With Liberty and Recess For All by Aaron Williams
Korgi Vol. 1: Sprouting Wings by Christian Slade
Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space #1) by Mike Maihack
If you like the art:
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Little Robot by Ben Hatke
Kahil by Kumail Rizvi
ABOUT THE CREATOR
Mike Barry – Cartoonist
New Face: His first book was Action Tank Book 1, in 2017!
He’s worked in a number of positions, and had numerous hobbies, but has mostly supported himself as a commercial illustrator.
Outlander: Barry lives and works from Sydney, Australia’s Northern Beaches!
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Click one of these:
And, starting in August 2021 as monthly issues, from Scout Comics!
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Mike Barry characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Mike Barry or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED