Bolivar

Sean Rubin (Writer and Artist)
Archaia/Boom! Studios
November 15, 2017

Bolivar, the last living dinosaur, enjoys a quiet life in a New York City apartment. Schoolgirl Sybil lives next door. He depends on no one noticing him, but Sybil and her camera have other plans. When Bolivar is mistaken for the mayor, Sybil finally has her chance.

bolivar

From start to finish, Bolivar is a delight. Writer/illustrator Sean Rubin makes it easy to see how a theropod could live in a city populated by eight million human beings. Against that backdrop, Rubin weaves a compelling tale about fitting in and sharing another person’s secrets without their consent, important concepts with nuances difficult for children to grasp.

All Bolivar requires is that the old man at the corner newsstand, the people in the sandwich shop where he gets his corned beef and tonic water with lime, the landlord who didn’t think to specify “No Dinosaurs” on the lease—never notice him. And they don’t. They’re absorbed in their own lives, so they don’t notice the gray-scaled dinosaur strolling through the museum and blending into the scenery. Sybil, however, notices everything. She has seen her neighbor is “eight feet tall and gray.” Most importantly, she has decided everyone else needs to notice him, too.

There are two visual aspects to Bolivar I appreciate: Rubin designed the book as a veritable Where’s Waldo, and he drew heavily on the distinctive tile artwork found throughout NYC’s subway stations. From page to page, readers are challenged to catch even the tiniest glimpse of the city’s largest living resident. This makes Sybil’s frustration over her inability to capture him on film relatable as the reader works to spot him, too. It also lends the book re-readability, because odds are good that at least one tail tip went unnoticed at first glance.

The mosaic artwork helps ground the book even more firmly in New York City. It is a small choice but a smart one—something natives will connect with even as it plants a seed in the minds of readers from other parts of the world. When they see that style of artwork again, they will associate it with New York and with Bolivar.

As parents, we teach our children to be honest. This has the side effect of leaving them indignant when they tell the truth but adults deem it too unusual to be true. They become insistent on proving themselves right. That is where Sybil finds herself in the opening pages of Bolivar. What Sybil (like most children) doesn’t realize is that Bolivar’s secret isn’t hers to share. In fact, once she starts proving to people that he is indeed a dinosaur, she has to find a way to make things right. While Bolivar does wind up coming out to fit in—and the city goes back to not noticing him—Sybil sees firsthand the negative consequences of outing someone who is different.

Seeing Sybil and Bolivar work through the situation provides young readers and parents a framework for discussing complicated topics. Having it presented in a visually-stunning comic package is simply icing on a delicious dinosaur-shaped cake.