All Ages: Captain Congo

Posted by on February 5th, 2011 at 3:47 PM

Captain Congo is an ongoing graphic novel series aimed at younger readers from children’s book publisher Working Title Press. The series was created in 2008 resulting from illustrator Greg Holfeld’s desire to do a comic book aimed at early readers.

“As my sons learned to read, they helped themselves to the comics on my shelf that were pitched at their level”, Holfeld explains.

“Herge’s Tintin, Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge, and anything that had that combination of animals, adventure and humour. With mainstream comics getting darker and darker, I thought this potential market was being ignored by comics publishers and a children’s book publisher could tap into that readership through schools and libraries.”

Publisher Jane Covernton teamed Greg with author Ruth Starke, and the three sat down to set the framework for the series. It was decided it should take place sometime in the early 20th century when the world was still big and technology unobtrusive, feature a changing set of locales, and have penguins and gorillas because that’s what Greg likes to draw.

The result was the indefatigable and erudite gorilla adventurer Captain Congo and his stalwart, smart-beaked side-kick Pug the penguin, who are sent on missions by the mysterious “Agency” to the furthest corners of the globe.

Volume 1: Captain Congo and the Crocodile King. An anthropologist searching for the legendary Treasure House of the Queen of Sheba is missing, and Captain Congo is sent by the Agency to Abyssinia to find him. Much to Pug’s dismay, they are not the only ones on the trail of Sheba’s treasure. Nominated as Picture Book of the Year in 2008 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

Volume 2: Captain Congo and the Maharaja’s Monkey. Released in 2009. When the Maharaja of Bekar dies suddenly (and mysteriously), Captain Congo and Pug set off to India to investigate. Even as preparations begin for young Prince Beki to be anointed as the next Maharaja, it’s clear that powerful enemies are scheming against him.

The books are lavishly produced and initially released as hard-covers reminiscent of European comic albums. Holfeld does not skimp on the detail just because it’s for kids, and looks to old-school cartoonists such as Milt Caniff, Will Eisner, and Alex Raymond for inspiration. Add to that the wonderful colouring of  Canadian Bernie Mireault and the total package is a visually rewarding one.

I gave the books to my 10 year old stepson, Jarod, to read (apparently, he had already read the first book from his school library!) and after reading the second book (and the first again), I asked him to write a few words:
“The Captain Congo series is one of my favourite series because the characters are funny, smart and… well… amazing.

“My favourite book of the series is ‘Captain Congo and the Maharaja’s Monkey’ because Mr. Pug the penguin dresses up as Lady Flora Pugsley and because the Maharaja has a 164 elephants!! It’s a lot of elephants!

“I still liked the first book though. I loved heaps of things about it, but I can’t say because they are all linked to the ending and I don’t want to ruin it.

“If there was more of the series, I would love to get them all.”

The Captain Congo series is available at bookshops across Australia, or visit Greg’s website (www.panicproductions.com.au) for a list of online retailers or to order signed copies.

The third volume, “Captain Congo and the Klondike Gold” is due for release mid 2011.

Art featured copyright Greg Holfeld. Text excerpt copyright Ruth Starke.
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