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Discovering Penny Dora

All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los AngelesMake March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered.  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.

To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.

Today’s piece is from novelist and comic-book writer Pat Shand:

A few years ago, I moved to San Diego, California. I’m back in my home state of New York, now, but my time on the west coast filled me with fond memories of great friends, beautiful locales, amazing food, trees that literally break apart like they’ve been hit with apocalyptic storms after a slight gust of wind, and a thriving comics community. While exploring the latter, hunting for a local retailer at which to host a signing, I found myself grabbing single issues from each store I visited. No one wants to be the guy who comes in, asks how they handle signings, and then bounces without making a purchase. That guy is a turd, and while I may have many a flaw, I like to think that turdliness is not among my shortcomings. Anyway, at one of these shops, I picked up a new comic after seeing Sina Grace’s name on it.

I’m not sure when Sina and I were first connected online, if I reached out or if he did. I remember enjoying his Facebook posts and really digging his artwork, but during my first few years working in the medium, I was pretty new to the concept of how the industry works in general so I didn’t know many people. Sina stood out, though, because besides being a stellar artist, when I met him for the first time in person at a super loud (they all are) and super weird (they really all are) New York Comic Con party, he paused and greeted me with warmth, hanging out for a little as if we were old friends. In an industry where, up until that point, I felt like I was scrambling to make any connection with people I admired, that really stood out.

Anyway, point is – I saw Sina’s name, recognized his artwork, and knew it would be the book I’d buy for this particular stop. It was Penny Dora and the Wishing Box. It also grabbed me because the title appealed to my younger self, who spent the vast majority of his teenage years searching out fantasy books capitalized on the Harry Potter craze with titles like So-and-So and the Magical Sounding Subtitle. I needed to plug those spaces between Harry Potter years with something as close to the original as possible (as an aside for those still looking for something to fill that Hogwarts-shaped gap, Charlie Bone and the Time Twister was, while enjoyable, the furthest while Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo was quite close). The title interested me based on the way it matched my previous obsession alone, but the actual book itself was, much to its credit, nothing like those not-quite-Harry-Potter series I’d sought out in earlier years. Penny Dora was original, both in its execution and narrative.

Penny Dora is drawn by Sina Grace, written by Michael Stock, colored by Tamra Bonvillain, lettered by Hope Larson, and co-created by Stock and his daughter Nico Ludwig-Stock who came up with the initial idea. The back matter of the issues and trade paperback tells the tale of how Nico came up with the story, how Michael developed it, and how their ham-loving cat Iggy made it into the story. I was instantly as invested in the making of Penny Dora as I was the story, which was just terrific.

Penny Dora is a mystery about a box – a wishing box – that shows up on Penny’s doorstep. Adventure ensues, and things get pretty wild and epic and dangerous fairly quickly, but the deeply nuanced family story and humor anchor the latter issues antics and add layers of subtext that all ages can enjoy. My favorite panel is in the first issue, after Penny opens her Christmas gifts. She is making a wish with her mother and Iggy, and each character has a fully illustrated thought bubble. Penny wishes to share a fun day with her father, Iggy wishes for a leg of ham, and Penny’s mother wishes for enough money to get rid of their problems.

I hope we get more Penny Dora in the future. There are very clearly more tales to tell within this world and with these characters. While this volume does wrap up nicely, there are many doors that have been opened that weren’t explored quite yet. Here’s hoping we get the chance!


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