CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 15. . . .December 11, 2009
Unless you're involved in a commercial fishery, you know that fishing isn't always just about the catching (and the eating). Sometimes, it's really actually only about the "chase" and the bragging rights to hooking and landing an elusive fish species or being the one to catch that local, large fish with the reputation of always being the "big one that got away." It's that latter scenario that makes up the stuff of the brief graphic "novel," Catch that Catfish!, in which a young boy sets out to land "the legend," a huge catfish. On one side, there is the enthusiastic youngster who has been warned by his elders that he's undertaking an impossible task, and, on the other, is the wise and wily fish which, over its long life, has bested much more experienced fishermen than the unnamed lad. Although the boy hooks the catfish, it is the fish that "lands" the boy in that the catfish pulls the slight boy into its watery environment. The determined boy, not abandoning his fishing rod, looks into the catfish's eyes and "sees" glimpses of the stories of four others who, over the many years of the catfish's lifetime, have also tried, unsuccessfully, to catch it. These people each encourage the boy to hold on, but, in a reverse catch-and-release program, the large fish snaps the fishing line and "dances off."
With Catch that Catfish! being just 30 pages long, it's difficult to call it a graphic "novel." Nonetheless, Toone's free verse-like text does tell a most tension-filled, engaging story, one which is enhanced by Chomichuk's artwork wherein, especially, his use of greens effectively captures the catfish's underwater environment. Early readers/listeners who are unfamiliar with how to "read" the comic book-like panels could initially need some assistance. Older, more sophisticated, readers may recognize that the eight pages given over to the boy's "visions" of the four earlier unsuccessful fishermen are actually invitations for them to "write" these fishers' tales. And while Catch that Catfish! has a "closed" ending in that the fish escapes, it's also open-ended as the narrator challenges readers:
For me, the only off-putting aspect of Catch that Catfish! was Chomichuk's occasional mixture of realistic and cartoon-like illustration styles, with the catfish and its world always being rendered in the former style, but the boy and other humans appearing to be less "real."
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he has never once bothered the Red River dwelling catfish.
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