Dylan has just moved to a new area where he has no friends and his mother is busy building up her new job. What Dylan has, though, is a grandfather more than willing to play imaginative games with him, to the extent of creating costumes. As Red Rocket and Cosmo they have adventures exploring the galaxy, like the opening sequence substituting a shopping trolley in a car park for their rocket. Unfortunately, the accident ending the escapade isn’t an isolated incident, and there have also been memory lapses, so it looks as if Red Rocket’s going to have to ship out to a place where he can be cared for. Or as he puts it “a place where old people go so they’re out of the way”.

For a first time comics writer Duane Murray presses all the right emotional buttons, defining the family dynamics efficiently early on, while ensuring adult readers will have an understanding of basically incompatible needs, and why Dylan isn’t told something important. His mother has said he’s has to grow up a little, so it’s time Cosmo undertakes a solo mission.

The emotional impact is superbly defined by Shawn Daley. His art has similarities to the simple styles of Jeff Lemire and Nate Powell, both among artists supplying guest illustrations, with everything necessary there on the page and depth added by a grey wash. Daley’s cast have more obvious feelings than the withdrawn folk in Lemire’s books, and the choice to work in black, white and grey for the real world while Dylan’s imagination is defined by colour supplies a noteworthy contrast.

Dylan’s quest is to find the care home, which is accompanied by the equally important search for him by his mother, but Murray feeds in other threads, such as the care offered in the home not being up to the standard most would want for elderly relatives. Given the general thrust of Better Place there’s an inevitable injection of heartwarming sentimentality, but also some surprisingly brutal moments, although supplied with enough subtlety not to upset young readers. The clues as to Dylan’s ultimate destination are beautifully planted, as is his joy at reaching it, and like so much here youngsters will revel in the magic while a constant tension is generated for adults picking up on the additional layers. These include a clever incorporation of covers to Red Rocket comics drawn by the guest artists.

While most of Better Place is ideally pitched, Murray falters when it comes to Dylan’s mother. In the first instance her reactions are understandable, if not the way everyone would handle the situation, but they’re not for a key scene later. It’s to set up a suspenseful finale, but might have been smoother. Otherwise, it’s all systems go.

Two creators with minimal experience have turned out a stunner. It succeeds on almost every level, and yet is simply told and expressively drawn. This is theoretically an all-ages graphic novel, but with an interesting difference. Kids will take the final few pages as a happy ending, but god help the parent reading it to them and having to stem the sobs. The ending is a tearjerker, but in the best sense, and there’s a killer final panel.