Review Blog

Jan 08 2014

Ubby's Underdogs: Heroes beginnings by Brenton E. McKenna

cover image

Magabala Books, 2013. ISBN 9781922142139.
This graphic novel is the second in a trilogy by Indigenous author/illustrator Brenton E. McKenna. Inspired by comic books from a young age and with a passion for both writing and art, McKenna has put his studies in Visual Arts to excellent use in this series which takes its setting and characters from his own hometown of Broome.
In post-WW2 Broome, the population was already a melting pot of multiculturalism with a rich history of plucky characters and exciting incidents. This second episode reintroduces characters from the first and continues the The legend of the Phoenix dragon.
The main protagonist, Ubby, is a young Aboriginal girl (based on McKenna's feisty grandmother) but her Underdogs encompass youngsters from a variety of backgrounds.
With a gripping backdrop of both Aboriginal and Chinese mythology, Ubby's Underdogs take on a mission to rescue their friend Sai Fong, the Dragon Summoner, from the rival gangs pursuing her for their own evil ends.
McKenna's art training is evident in the stylish presentation of this graphic novel - the black framing and outstanding use of colour heighten the intensity of the story. There is a 'manga' feel to the design which devotees of that genre will find appealing. While recommended for upper primary to secondary, I would suggest that some of the phonetic/accented dialogue may be a challenge for less than capable readers. Both boys and girls would relate to this book, as although Ubby is the leader of her rag-tag band, she is clearly not the most 'girly' girl.
The growing market for graphic literature attests to its popularity with a young generation who are far more visually influenced than those of the past. This series would be a fabulous addition to your Graphic shelves - or if you have not yet ventured into graphic literature this homegrown series may be a fine starting point. There has been some resistance from some quarters who suggest that graphic novels are 'easy' reading and therefore to be dismissed with scorn. Clearly they have not read any of quality, would be my response! This series could equally add to Australian studies as a springboard to discussion of Broome, the Chinese in Australia, the pearling industry and more.
Sue Warren

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