Untroubled by mobile phones and airport queues, Captain Congo and his avian sidekick Pug are back in the thick of the action.
Dr Ruth Starke, writer-in-residence and lecturer in the Creative Writing course at Flinders, has just published Captain Congo and the Maharaja’s Monkey, her second graphic novel with illustrator Greg Holfeld.
Spurred by her collaborator’s penchant for drawing gorillas and penguins, Dr Starke created her unlikely pair of heroes for last year’s Captain Congo and the Crocodile King. Part ripping yarn, part mystery, the book was a popular and critical success, and was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council Picture Book of the Year 2009.
Although a very popular form, few graphic novels exist for a primary school readership, Dr Starke said.
“While popular among all ages, they are increasingly coming out for teenage readers, and a lot of them are very violent and grim and dark,” she said.
“It was quite challenging to come up with a story that will sustain the length, be exciting and full of twists and yet won’t be overly violent and will also be within the comprehension of, say, an eight year-old.”
With the idea of deliberately avoiding the limits imposed by modern technology and bureaucracy, the stories are set somewhere around the 1930s and ‘40s. The first adventure took place in Abyssinia, while the sequel has moved to the India of the British Raj.
“All we wanted was not to have any reliance on technology, and to have the problem solved by superior brain-power, and a bit of brute strength if it’s needed,” Dr Starke said.
The Captain’s apparently bottomless duffel bag comes in useful too.
Dr Starke said the pairing has overtones of the some of the great fictional duos, such as Poirot and Hastings or Holmes and Watson.
“And of course Pug is by way of being the child reader too,” she said.
Although an experienced author of children’s fiction, Dr Starke said she had discovered that writing graphic novels demanded an approach more akin to scriptwriting for film.
She said that while text and artwork were both carefully researched for period authenticity, it was important not to overburden the plot with too much explanatory information.
“I found that you could keep details to an absolute minimum,” Dr Starke said.
“Originally I was stressing about how the two met, and what a gorilla and a penguin were doing teaming up. It turns out that it doesn’t matter: they just are. In the tradition of comic books, you just accept certain things.”
Nevertheless, part of the fun will be to flesh out the pair’s history as the series progresses: “Fans love a back-story,” Dr Starke said.
Plotting for a third adventure is already under way, and this time it seems our heroes may be heading for the icy north…
Captain Congo and the Maharaja’s Monkey is published by Working Title Press.