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Order Of The Night Jay

Jonathan Schnapp
Top Shelf
$14.99 US/ $19.99 CAN
162 pages

Bullies, bugs, and summertime blues!

Like many kids his age Frank Griselli has a vivid imagination, and with his favorite comic Mega Bunny as inspiration, loves to draw himself as a hero in his own comics. Frank is also shy and anxious and is on his way to his first summer camp. It’s an experience in the great bug infested outdoors he’s dreading but his father insisted. On the bus trip to the camp Frank meets Ricky who loves Mega Bunny too. Order Of The Night Jay follows the adventures of an introverted bear and a risk taking squirrel as they find themselves in trouble, getting lost, and accidentally stumbling across a big mystery at Camp Jay Bird!

Order Of The Night Jay is a story about the kid who doesn’t fit in with other kids. Schnapp’s characterization of Frank as the outsider is much like the mutant as outsider metaphor baked into the X-Men since their conception nearly sixty years ago. Not only is Frank shy and nervous, he’s awkward and as the only bear he towers over everyone at the camp which caters to small animals. Like Frank, they might be bigger than other kids or have a different body shape or they’re quiet or awkward. Maybe they hate sports and love to read or draw. That child might have a different cultural or religious background. Maybe they just wear glasses or like something that isn’t “gender appropriate.” That child who doesn’t fit in just might also have an idea — however vague — that they’re queer or trans. Regardless of whatever way they’re unique they’ll almost certainly be bullied and feared just for being who they are as Frank is by some of the other Jay Bird campers. As Frank’s newfound friend and defender, Ricky illustrates the vital message of support and acceptance kids need and deserve from their peers.

Schnapp’s story would be successful on just these merits alone but Order Of The Night Jay has other relevant themes within its pages. Neither Frank or Ricky are perfect. They have differences and disagreements which test their friendship and they learn and grow from these challenges. It’s about learning to embrace new experiences outside of our comfort zones like summer camp is for Frank and being open to exploring new things and places in life. At the story’s heart though is a simple truth that reveals itself as Frank tentatively begins to picture himself not just as a hero in his imagination but becoming a hero outwardly in real life.

A personal digression such as the one I’m about to make may have no place in a review. Truth be told, I was one of the kids like Frank. The moment I read the word “sissy” hurled at Frank by one of the bullies brought back a memory. Spoken as something undesirable to be, it was the first word I had at age six to describe what I’d thought was my successfully guarded secret, one which I had only the vaguest understanding of otherness. Just like Frank, I was shy and awkward, hated math and my father was not nearly as kind as one would want a father to be. Taking pencil to paper to make my own comic inspired drawings like Frank does in his Super Bear comic was also one of my childhood refuges. The one missing element for me in grade school was having a good friend like Ricky becomes for Frank. Of course Schnapp hadn’t somehow reached into my childhood memories from more years ago than I’ll admit.

The art is energetic and charming with big strokes and simple shapes creating the animal characters and Camp Jay Bird environs. Schnapp’s ability to convey emotion and personality with a few pared down lines is delightfully effective. The coloring ranges from bright and bold to dark and eerie, often rendered flatly, at other times made with a watercolor scrumble effect. The pages of Frank’s Super Bear comic arranged throughout the book imitate the look of a budding artist while providing more insight into Frank’s character. Adding to the book’s overall appeal is a lettering font that resembles a child’s handwriting.

Order Of The Night Jay is a story that can be appreciated by any kid needing a little encouragement in their life as well as other kids for its message that other kinds of kids can be heroes too.

Look for Order Of The Night Jay in your local comic shop or bookstore. Comicshoplocator will help you find a comic shop. Give this ISBN 978-1-60309-510-5 to order a copy if your bookstore doesn’t have one. You can also use Bookshop or Indiebound. If all else fails or you prefer, find it at Amazon.

September 19, 2022
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