Sometimes, especially when the world is terrible, you just need something sweet. Bug Boys has always been a comic that brings such sweetness. Protagonists Rhino-B and Stag-B often spend their stories worrying about what it means to grow up and become an adult, but they meet adult mentors who teach them gentle lessons, and guide each other through. Laura Knetzger’s second Bug Boys book with Random House Graphic, Bug Boys: Outside and Beyond, brings more sweet stories about growing up and expanding one’s view of the world.
Bug Boys: Outside and Beyond
Laura Knetzger (Writer & Art), Lyle Lynde (Colors)
Random House Graphic
February 9, 2021
As the title suggests, this new collection focuses on stories that bring Rhino-B and Stag-B outside the comfort of their cozy home in Bug Village. The book begins with a gentle, fairly safe exploration out in the world – the boys go camping! Rhino-B proves to be a knowledgeable camper, but Stag-B struggles. He can’t tell which plants are safe and which are poisonous, he doesn’t know how to effectively build a fire, and the longer they stay out in the forest, the more uncomfortable Stag-B feels. Stag-B quickly begins to see Rhino-B as superior – after all, his friend is apparently full of random survival skills.
As Stag-B watches Rhino-B set up camp, the flames of the campfire – the fire that Stag-B couldn’t figure out how to create – are reflected eerily in his eyes, as his feelings well up and eventually explode. Of course, in the kindest reveal, Rhino-B explains that he picked up all these skills at the library where Stag-B works, and he did it because he’s hoping to find his own place in the world – just as Stag-B found his place at the library.
As soon as I read this first story, I knew this collection would be just as satisfying as Knetzger’s previous comics about these sweet bug children. Reading them is like getting a warm, gentle hug in a moment of crisis. All the boys’ anxieties about growing up are soothed by the end of each story, so each time you finish a chapter, you breathe a calming sigh of relief.
The story in the collection that reveals the heart of Bug Boys is “The Playdate at Raspberry Bush.” In this story, Rhino-B and Stag-B visit their friend Bee Queen. Bee Queen takes them to a special, gigantic raspberry bush, so the boys can climb it and sample the berries – the literal fruits of her hive’s labor. While the three rest on the top of the bush, basking in the sun, Bee Queen reveals that she wants to make positive changes for her hive. Hoping to support her, the boys tell her they can help her find a unique name for herself.
Disaster strikes when they fall into a hole beneath the bush, and get lost among its roots. Of course, in true Bug Boys fashion, their journey out leads them to a special piece of the world – a crystalline raspberry that Bee Queen recognizes as the soul of the raspberry bush, an entity invested in supplying life and nourishment to the rest of its body. Inspired by their discover, and the Queen’s strong feelings of empathy for it, the boys casually name her “Soul” and bid her farewell.
First – this story is gorgeous. Lyle Lynde once again provides colors for this book, and the colors throughout are just as vibrant as they were in the first. The berries from the bush that we first see are a dark purplish color, but when the trio encounters the bush’s crystalline heart, it is a sparkling pink that casts glittery bits of light around the dark root system. Bee Queen has a very soft character design – she’s all rounded shapes and soft yellows and browns – and when she touches the pink raspberry, they look just right together – two soft hearts nourishing their personal hives.
The lesson of “The Playdate at Raspberry Bush” isn’t simple. Bee Queen’s role as queen is growing more complicated, and she’s trying to grow into it. Similarly, as they look for their places in the world, Rhino-B and Stag-B are realizing that the world is complex – a lesson that is heavily reinforced when they visit Centipede City in the following story, “Little Bugs in the Big City.” Like the raspberry bush, they’re all learning to multitask, to dig their roots into the ground but also reach toward the sun, to nourish their whole selves. It’s a perfect snapshot of the anxiety and the beauty of growing up.
That is Bug Boys at its heart – a sweet snapshot of the anxiety and beauty of growing up. Please, snag this new collection for your dearest young readers at a local bookstore or comic shop, or grab it from your local library.