ADVANCED REVIEW: Bully Wars #1 by Skottie Young & Aaron Conley, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, & Nate Piekos

For Bully Wars, Skottie Young teams with Aaron Conley, a Skottie Young-esque artist.

By Zack Quaintance — I heard writer Skottie Young on the Word Balloon Podcast a few weeks ago talking about his new book, Bully Wars, saying the aim was to make an Image comic that was accessible for all ages but didn’t exactly feel like a story strictly for kids, a challenge for creatives in any field or medium. It’s that sweet spot that made Pixar films so vibrant in the studio’s early years. They hit the mark repeatedly then, and continue to do so with relatively high frequency to this day. Call it broadly safe but smart appeal.

Well, Young and his Bully Wars collaborators—artists Aaron Conley and Jean-Francois Beaulieu—however, have come pretty close to finding that sweet spot in this first issue. There’s not even close to anything in this book that would ring as inappropriate for young readers, and, despite my obvious disadvantage of being a kind of old guy (I will only ever admit to being somewhat older than 22), I’m fairly certain the bright colors, exaggerated and cartoony character designs, and classroom setting will be a big draw for all ages of kids, likely up through high school. I know I certainly would have dug this in my day of angsty (but improving!) late ‘90s comics.

When it comes to appeal for adults, Bully Wars #1 is slightly more of a mixed effort. The twists in how characters are perceived are interesting, but the book will likely need more substance to hold older readers’ interests long-term. There are, however, plenty of signs in this first issue that that substance is coming. This brings me to the other goal Young mentioned for Bully Wars on Word Balloon: incorporating more understanding into the standard school narrative of bully bad and mean. The book definitely has hints of an aspiration to humanize its bullies, although at this point those aspirations are still in nascent stages.

Young’s interests as a writer, though, are fairly subversive (see the recently-concluded I Hate Fairyland), and so I think it’s safe to assume he’ll get where he’s aiming for. I know that I’ll at least be following this book for the entirety of its first arc. Really, the background sight gags (an athletic apparel company called Sike got a little chuckle out of me) and excellent cartooning on par with some of my favorite animation is enough to seal its appeal for me.

Overall: Bully Wars #1 is a vibrant all ages comic with a lot of promise and potentially even an important lesson about labels. This comic does more than enough with its first issue to pique my interest in where it’s headed. 7.5/10

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Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.