Wrap your head around this: Juice Squeezers was created by David Lapham, but has been advertised as all-ages fun, with a storyline to be included in Dark Horse’s Free Comic Book Day offerings for 2014. Without a doubt, Lapham is a talented writer and artist, recognized with an Eisner in 1996 for his Stray Bullets (returning to Image soon!), but he is also known for content ranging from mature to gratuitously violent and depraved. I was curious about the size of the train wreck I might witness when I reviewed this book; would blood and entrails simply be replaced with bug juice, or does Lapham have the chops to write something with broader appeal?
Juice Squeezers #1 follows a group of under-supervised tweens (that’s directly from the introduction, I didn’t know that word was used by people who weren’t hosting the TODAY show) who defend their California town from invasion by giant bugs. Lead by their gym teacher, a poor-man’s Nick Fury, the children are awarded for their extracurricular efforts with mandatory private detention sessions which double as local history lessons. The setting is probably contemporary, but there is very little in the way of technology to indicate that this story doesn’t take place in the late 80s.
In terms of character introductions, the tweens are all a cascade of chatter, with barely time to get to know them as individuals. So far there’s the normal one, the cool one, the blonde one, the short one, the ugly one, the new kid, and the girl. It will be interesting to see how Lapham adds meat to these familiar bones.
In addition to credit as creator and writer, Lapham is illustrator on this series. I was particularly pleased to see how well he portrays the youngsters, giving these characters the proportions of teenagers and children, rather than falling victim to the comic equivalent of 90210-syndrome where the characters are simply three quarter scale adults. Lee Loughridge provides colors, creating an interesting dynamic between blue tinted underground passages, and warm orange landscapes above ground. Lettering credit goes to Nate Piekos of Blambot whose placement of the dialogue makes the simultaneous shouts of half a dozen obnoxious children comprehensible.
Juice Squeezers is a story that will inevitably be compared to the existing genre of “boys-running-around” stories, the sort of glorified, romanticized, Americanized bildungsroman epitomized by movies like: The Sandlot, Stand By Me, The Goonies, Super 8, yeah, I’m not impressing anyone with my obscure movie knowledge here, and I guess that's my point. David Lapham is a name with baggage, attempting an uncharacteristic project, in a genre near and dear to the hearts of many readers. There will be an unnatural amount of scrutiny around this project, and it feels like Lapham is playing it safe so far. I'm not disppointed, but I will be if I don't get more bug guts and character development in the next issue.