CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 37 . . . . May 27, 2011
Part graphics, part information text, Spy, Spy Again is a collection of true stories from all over the world and all eras of history that have one thing in common: they are all about spies or spy agencies that made mistakes. Tina Holdcroft has done an incredible amount of research into often forgotten passages of history, and she learned the arcane details that led to the fatal errors of spy missions that either failed or were exposed. Each story is presented as an introductory text that gives way to a complex graphic story in which important facts are often presented in single words to explain an image or in snippets of invented dialogue (like Mata Hari saying, "I want to be a spy. How hard can it be?" to describe how the exotic dancer changed careers).
The economy of words and images that Holdcroft uses is such that very complex narratives are presented in just a few pages, making the book ideal for reluctant yet intelligent readers. The material can occasionally be difficult to follow, and more than once the sequence of images, which can move across, down, and diagonally in rapid succession, is unclear. The textual parts are witty, although occasionally the wit is overdone, as in the over punctuation of some with the "mwahaha" diabolical laugh. The illustrations are pure cartoon, with no attempt at subtlety or emotion, yet the visual antics are delightful and the detail and complexity fascinating.
The stories are wide ranging and not at all repetitive. Particularly enjoyable is the segment, quoted above, about the French sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985, although the absence of any Canadian content (like Igor Gouzenko, the Soviet defector who was almost denied asylum by a disbelieving Canadian government) is surprising.
The only real drawback to Spy, Spy Again is the physical quality of the book, which is printed on overly glossy paper (albeit FSC certified) that makes the printing quality look poor. According to the author's description, the graphic portions were done in ink, scanned, then coloured with Photoshop, and it does lend a slightly homemade look to the pages; in addition, the print in the text portions looks fuzzy in the way that a home photo printer might produce. But these distractions – and the unfortunate stereotyping of German and French accents in some of the "dialogue" (since when is "allo" French for hello anywhere but on a phone?) – do not hide the fact that this is an immensely fun and enlightening book that many readers will find absolutely absorbing.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Children's Book Centre.
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