On sale in March from Top Shelf is Blue, the debut graphic novel of Australian cartoonist Pat Grant. The 96-page hardcover is a beautifully drawn allegorical adventure starring three kids in a provincial beach town as they navigate racism, immigration, surfing and a quest to see a real-life dead body. Featuring blue-skinned aliens whose immigration to the fictional city of Bolton has distressed the economy and stimulated the racial prejudices of its xenophobic inhabitants, Blue is inspired by Grant's first-hand experience in the Cronulla Race Riots of 2005 and described sardonically by him as "District 9 meets Stand By Me."

I read Blue today and found it an uncommonly sophisticated look at prejudice and localism. Its narrative is introduced by an adult called Christian, who has no love lost for the blue tentacled aliens whose arrival in Bolton when he was a kid. Their arrival began, in his view, the city's downward spiral. But we flashback to when Christian and his friends Verne and Muck were kids just trying to skip school to go surfing, and Grant's characterizations of this gang makes it difficult not to like them at least a little. They're not particularly nice kids -- the book actually fakes you out at first into thinking a nice boy from Sydney, whom they bully mercilessly, is actually the star -- but Grant makes them real enough that the reader can see just enough of themselves in their teenage behavior: Cursing is fun! The waves are going to be massive! These American comics suck! Whoa a dead body is somewhere out by the train tracks!

Grant acknowledges in Blue's afterward that his book shares some similarities with Stephen King's The Body (better known to most people in the form of the film adaptation, Stand By Me), but crucially, Grant himself actually lived through this aspect of his story. As a child, he searched for a dead body said to be found near some train tracks, and it's against the framework of that grim memory that Grant set his story.

Along the kids' macabre quest, Grant shows us how the blue aliens have been trying, unsuccessfully, to assimilate to life in Bolton, and how much of that is the fault of the unwelcoming citizens. These themes are layered elegantly and with humor but without didacticism in Grant's gorgeous pages, which offer lots of beautiful details to the close reader. The book even includes a long form essay by Grant that seeks to immortalize the comic book influences that helped inspired him to create his first graphic novel.

Available as an "American version" from Top Shelf and in a native "Australian version" Giramondo, Blue has been praised by Blankets author Craig Thompson for "rekindling my earliest enthusiasm for the comics medium." The book goes on sale in March and can be pre-ordered now.

(Click pages to enlarge. Note: we have censored the cursing for your protection)

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