Space Boy, Volume 1
Written and Illustrated by Stephen McCranie
A little over a year ago, my wife and I moved cross-country from Ohio to Washington. We’re both in our mid-30s, and we’d lived in Ohio for our entire lives, but my wife got a really good job offer, and I was able to turn my office job into a work-from-home job, so we packed up our lives and our dogs and we drove (my wife first, then two months later both of us plus our pets), over the course of a few days, the 2,500 miles to Seattle.
It’s hard to go from a place you’ve been your whole life, where your close family and all of your friends live, where you know where everything is and basically what to expect when you get there, to a completely new, extremely distant place. I told myself I was fine with it, and for the most part I was, until about six months into it when I wasn’t able to attend the wedding of one of my best friends back in Ohio. I saw pictures of the wedding and it all hit me at that moment just how far away I was, and how much I was missing back home.
I did not expect Space Boy to hit as close to home as it did. Honestly I’m not sure what I expected when I sat down to read it. The book is called Space Boy, but the titular character only appears on a handful of pages in this first volume. Instead, the main character, Amy, is a teenage girl who is abruptly forced to leave the place she’s spent her whole life and move with her parents to a new place, leaving her friends and everything she’s ever known behind. She has to adapt to new surroundings, try to make new friends, and deal with the fact that life has continued on without her back in her previous home.
Naturally, my experience and Amy’s are not exactly the same. For one thing, she’s a teenager. Also, her old home is a mining colony out in space, her new home is Earth, and the trip to and from takes not a few days but a full 30 years, which Amy spends in suspended animation.
In Volume 1 of Space Boy, author Stephen McCranie has created in Amy an instantly relatable and unique character who feels like a real person immediately. The book’s narration comes from Amy, so the reader spends a lot of time in her head, experiencing the pain of loss, the awkwardness of being in a new situation, and the joy of finding one’s place along with her. Every page pops with Amy’s personality and her unique view of the world and what she describes as the ‘flavors’ of everyone she meets. It allows the reader not only to know the other characters, but to get a strong sense of Amy as well.
On top of the strong character work, McCranie excels at establishing the world of the book in a way that’s easy to get into and not bogged down in minutia. While the time period in which the story takes place is never specified, it’s safe to say it’s roughly 500 years into the future, and even though there are obvious technological changes on display in the book, overall Earth looks pretty recognizable. McCranie introduces and then moves on from this new tech so casually that it becomes part of the landscape of the world without being integral to the reader’s enjoyment of the story. There is one particular advancement, a Google Glass-style piece of tech called Net Gear, that gets a little more attention. Net Gear provides McCranie an opportunity for both pointed commentary on how people present themselves to the world in the digital age, and some really fun visuals that help liven up classroom scenes that might otherwise be not that exciting to look at.
Space Boy began its life as a serialized webcomic, and while I’ve been less than satisfied in the past by first volumes of webcomic collections, Space Boy doesn’t have that problem. Yes, there are questions left unanswered, seeds planted that as of the book’s end appear to be nowhere near coming to fruition. But the focus in this story is squarely on Amy and her experiences trying to fit in at her new school, on her new planet, in her new time period. These sorts of things – wanting to belong, wanting to be comfortable with yourself, facing the unknown – are never truly resolved in life, and Space Boy doesn’t try to reduce them to easily fixable problems. Instead, McCranie allows Amy to find small victories where she can, and to begin to develop friendships and a sense of place by the volume’s end. It’s a satisfying ending on a character level, while still making me want to come back and read more.
Stephen McCranie’s Space Boy, Volume 1 is a wonderful book full of entertaining characters, big ideas, and fun visuals. The themes present are universally relatable and presented without being simplified or dumbed down. Whether you’re a teenager starting out at a new school or an adult who’s recently moved from one end of a continent to the other, there’s something to identify with for everyone here. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Joe Grunenwald is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He’s taller than a lot of people but not as tall as some people.