Cartoonist: Laura Knetzger

Publisher: Random House Graphic

Bug Boys, the middle-grade graphic novel by Laura Knetzger, is a joyful breath of fresh air. The story follows Stag-B and Rhino-B, two young beetles who live in Bug Village and are best friends and roommates. Together, these charming best beetle buddies go on a series of adventures that lead them to encounters in the wider natural world, in the human world, and even within themselves.

Adventures with Stag-B and Rhino-B

First and foremost, the art is bright, colorful, and completely irresistible. According to the copyright page, Knetzger used pen and ink on Bristol board as well as Photoshop to make Bug Boys. So far, every book in the Random House Graphic line has included this information, which is a nice detail for readers who might be curious about making a comic of their own (and for those especially inspired by Bug Boys, there are instructions on how to draw the two lead characters included in the back material of this graphic novel).

Aren’t maps in comics the best?! Courtesy of RH Graphic

Bug Boys is divided into chapters, and during the course of the book, Rhino-B and Stag-B have a series of different and varied adventures. They discover a treasure map, face off against (or at least flee from) predators, eat a whole plethora of different kinds of appetizing food, and make brand new insect and arachnid friends. In one chapter, a human kidnaps Rhino-B, and different panels offer a glimpse of “Human vision” compared with “Bug vision,” a nice detail that provides insight into the perspective of the bugs.

What’s especially appealing about Bug Boys is the way that they don’t turn away from serious questions. Early in the book, Rhino-B and Stag-B visit the Great Chrysalis, something of a religious site to the residents of Bug Village. Rhino-B asks if the Great Chrysalis grants wishes, and while Stag-B admits that he isn’t sure it’s capable of granting wishes, he likes to use the wishing like meditation anyway. It’s a thoughtful rumination on the role of prayer and one of the many quiet philosophical moments that make this comic so memorable.

The friendship between Stag-B and Rhino-B is heartwarming and earnest. When the two best friends have been separated, Rhino-B begins to cry. When another beetle comments that he cries a lot for a boy, Rhino-B asks what difference it makes if he’s a boy or not, and remarks that he may never see his friend again. Allowing the characters to show this kind of emotion over the potential loss of their friendship, and to doubly affirm that it’s acceptable to express that emotion regardless of gender, is yet another instance of the positive messages to be found in this comic.

There are also plenty of details about the natural world contained in the story. When Stag-B and Rhino-B discover a copper necklace that has turned green, Rhino-B consults a book to explain that it probably used to be shiny, but has changed color due to oxidization (Stag-B and Rhino-B love books – bugs after my own heart).

There are also plenty of laugh-out-loud hilarious moments in the graphic novel. A page detailing Rufus the dog’s interaction with a cat is particularly amusing, as are Rhino-B and Stag-B’s initial impressions upon meeting Dome Spider the librarian. In fact, Dome Spider is a consistent source of comedy throughout the story, and her occasional struggle to understand how life works for beetles when compared to spiders is effectively mined for comedy time and again (and in her defense, at no point does she seem to seriously consider eating Stag-B and Rhino-B).

A detailed world

The chaptered-structure of the graphic novel is extremely effective. For one thing, since it is clear that time passes between the chapters, it creates a sense of the passage of time and allows the reader’s imagination to run wild as they consider the many possible adventures that Stag-B and Rhino-B may have gotten up to between one chapter and the next. Plus, each chapter opens with a full-page picture, every single one of which is an enjoyable image of the best friends having an adventure.

In addition to all this, there are plenty of intriguing glimpses of life and culture in Bug Village. One chapter tells the story of the Coming-of-Age Festival, in which all the bugs born in a certain year take part in a ceremony symbolizing their transition to adulthood, and another chapter focuses on Honey Day, an annual festival in which the bugs of Bug Village enjoy the vat of honey imported from the Bee Hive trading partner of the village. Like the Great Chrysalis, these details suggest a world that exists beyond the details we see on the page, both providing space to imagine more adventures and leaving the door open for further development in future volumes.

Get ahold of them bug boys!

Speaking of future volumes, the sequel is already on its way, which is great news: while Stag-B and Rhino-B go on plenty of adventures in Bug Boys, as soon as you’ve finished the book, you’ll immediately be ready for more. No matter how old the reader, they will find this graphic novel to be a exuberant glimpse into a world filled with wonder. Do anything necessary to check out Bug Boys!

Bug Boys will be available from booksellers on February 11th, 2020, or you can ask to borrow the book from your local library (but be extra polite if your local librarian happens to be a spider).