Review by Ian Keogh
Ian Boothby looks to have grown up during the TV cartoon era dominated by wacky Hanna Barbera productions, as Sparks! is an idea that Hanna and Barbera would have killed for: two cats within a robot dog. August is the inventor, and Charlie the brave pilot, and their characters are polar opposites, one introspective and cautious, the other wild and irrepressible, so a classic combination. They’re alerted to danger by their robot litter tray/cat box, perform heroic deeds in their disguise, and depart before anyone can get too close.
Having run through a couple of rescues, we’re introduced to the two spanners in the works. Denise Densford from Channel 7 News never arrives in time to witness the dog rescue work, and develops a theory that accidents are in fact being staged to enable a rescue. She’s actually right on that count, but is pointing the finger in the wrong direction. It’s the evil baby genius controlling its parents via pain pants who’s repsonsible. Actually, there’s a third problem, but that comes as a shock and is best kept that way.
This surreal stew is perfectly delivered by Nina Matsumoto’s lively panels moving the action forward rapidly. She’s great at picking the right moments to enlarge the viewpoint or to close in, and gives the cats and their squirrel mate proper personalities. Her talent is eventually applied to plenty of other animals, many of whom she manages to make threatening despite their cartoon form. Not too threatening, though as Sparks! is an all-ages delight.
Along the way Boothby delivers August and Charlie’s backstory and how the Sparks suit came into being with some well thought out, but very enjoyably silly, reasoning. That inventive quality persists throughout a wacky fable in which the villainous plan actually comes to fruition. Will Sparks escape the traps to save the day? Adults will probably guess the answer, but boy will kids have fun along the way to discovering it.
This is an idea too good to limit to just the one book, so August and Charlie are back for Double Dog Dare.