Rereading: DOCTOR DOLITTLE’S CIRCUS by Hugh Lofting

Though I have and enjoy reading all the Doctor Dolittle books, this was always one of my least favorites. After rereading it recently, I think I know why. Much of the book deals with the Doctor’s dealings with other people, and his own animal family and other animals often play a lesser role. Written in 1924, it was the fourth book published. Chronologically it takes place after “The Story of Doctor Dolittle” and “Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office,” in about 1821-22. The Doctor, his animal family, and the fabulous two-headed Pushmi-Pullyu from Africa have joined a circus. They need to raise money to help pay for the ship that the Doctor borrowed for his voyage to Africa in the first two books, which was wrecked.

The Doctor and some of his animals locate a small circus run by Alexander Blossom, and he is so impressed with the Pushmi-Pullyu that he not only agrees to let the Doctor exhibit him in the circus’s sideshow, splitting the proceeds, but gives him a fine circus wagon to live in. Matthew, the Cat’s-Meat-Man is along to help out with the Pushmi-Pullyu, and the duck Dab-Dab is there to keep the books, when she can manage to save any money at all. The Doctor is notoriously kind-hearted and generous. As they transition to circus life, the Doctor is very unhappy with the conditions of the other animals in the circus. Of course he talks to them, and they all have complaints from too much confinement to the wrong kinds of food, and so on. When Dolittle tries to help them by going to Blossom, he gets nowhere, and many of the other circus employees are hostile to his ideas.

The worst case is that of an Alaskan seal named Sophie, also being exhibited in the sideshow by her owner. Sophie is terribly worried about her mate, who birds have told her is in trouble at home, and wants desperately to escape the circus and get back to him. The Doctor eventually agrees to help her, and the two of them do manage to escape, but have lots of trouble and close-calls as they try to make their way to the sea. (This takes up about half the book.)

Returning to the circus, the Doctor has an idea for helping one of the old cart horses. He and the horse Beppo put together a talking horse act for the big top, and it draws crowds. Considering that the Doctor and Beppo can speak to each other, it’s not surprising the act is an amazing hit. The circus is suddenly the talk of the area, and is invited to perform at a very large venue. Money is rolling in, and just when the Doctor’s troubles seem over, Mr. Blossom and his wife disappear with all the money! It seems the circus is through, but the animals and the remaining circus performers, all now friends, beg the Doctor to take over the circus on his own terms. Reluctantly, Dolittle agrees, and soon the Dolittle Circus is once again on the road, with everyone sharing in the work and the profits, and all animals treated kindly.

I did enjoy rereading this, and Hugh Lofting’s skill at social commentary, humor and insight into human nature were more appreciated by me now than they were when I read it as a child.

Recommended.

Incoming: NIGHT FORCE and KIRBY, KING OF COMICS

Image © DC Entertainment.

I lettered about half the fourteen issue run of this fine series by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan from 1982-83. It’s mix of Kolchak the Night Stalker, Doctor Strange and Marv’s Dracula, sort of. Excellently written and drawn. I loved working on it, but I’m not too fond of my lettering here, especially when it’s put next to the stellar work of John Costanza, who did the rest. If you like creepy mysteries, give it a try.

Image © Mark Evanier and, I guess Marvel.

This book did not arrive in the mail or by UPS, it was handed to me by the author at Baltimore Comic-Con. It’s a revised and expanded edition of the 2008 hardcover. The format is a hybrid of soft- and hard-covers: glued binding, and cover boards that are thinner than a hardcover but thicker than a trade paperback, and they extend out beyond the pages like a hardcover. This edition has the logo on it that I designed for Mark in 2007 or so, which was rejected at the time. We’re both glad to see it on this edition, which is the one I will be keeping on my own bookshelf. Eventually I will read it, too!

And Then I Read: GREEN LANTERNS #17

Image © DC Entertainment.

This is the second and concluding part of a rather fun Batman crossover, done the way crossovers used to be: characters in the book you’re reading interact/team with characters in ONE other book for an issue or two. This is not only fun but smart marketing. Give your readers a taste of another series and perhaps they will try it. As opposed to the massive crossovers where you have to buy a lot more books to even follow the story, creating ill-will and disgruntled fans. (My humble opinion!)

Batman has asked Simon and Jessica, Earth’s current Green Lanterns, for help with a recent menace in Gotham City that seems to involve the power of the Yellow  Lanterns: random citizens are being overwhelmed with fear…of Batman! Even Alfred is taken over by it, and he’s trying to kill Batman. Behind it is Batman’s fear-mongering foe The Scarecrow. Do Simon and Jessica have the willpower to overcome Scarecrow’s Yellow Lantern-powered fear machines? Nicely done by writer Sam Humphries, artists Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira, colorist Blond and letterer Dave Sharpe.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE FLASH #19

Image © DC Entertainment.

Part two of “Sins of the Father” has Flash and Kid Flash in Australia with Captain Boomerang, prisoners of a crime/terrorism gang called The Weavers. Digger (Boomerang) was sent there alone by Amanda Waller of Suicide Squad, and the addition of costumed heroes has made his job harder. Wally (Kid Flash) is trying to find out what happened to his real father, and Digger might have the answers, if they can get out of the mess they’re in. The conversation in this one was as interesting as the action, always a good thing.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: BUILDING BLOCKS by Cynthia Voigt

Cover art by Eileen McKeating.

The other early works by Voigt that I’ve read have been realistic dramas about broken families and troubled teens written very well. This one from 1984 is a departure in that the main character, Brann Connell, goes back in time. In the present, Brann’s family is having their own troubles. Brann’s mother wants to go back to school to become a lawyer and help the family’s flagging fortunes. Brann’s father is an architect with a good job but no ambition. He’s recently inherited a family farm that he wants to go live and work on, but that would mean quitting his current job. If the farm was sold and they stay where they are, the money from it would allow Brann’s mom to go back to school.

Tired of their arguing, Brann retreats to the basement and builds a fort around himself with a set of wooden blocks built by his father. He falls asleep there, and when he wakes up he’s in a different time and place, in the room of a boy named Kevin whose family is also troubled. Kevin’s father is a tyrant with strict rules that, when broken, result in severe punishment. His mother is exhausted from caring for their large family, and pregnant with another child. As Brann tries to fit in to this new situation, he finds a friend in Kevin, and tries to help him through family mishaps and adventures gone wrong that Kevin, the oldest, always seems to get the blame for, something none of his siblings seem willing to do. It takes a while, but Brann finally figures out that Kevin is his own father as a boy. Voigt uses the time travel experience to give Brann new insight into his father in a story that, as usual, is well written and satisfying. The plot spirals back to the present eventually, where Brann sees his own family through new eyes.

Recommended.