3 out of 5
Kickily’s Musnet – about a homeless mouse who moves into Monet’s home and learns to paint – is undeniably appealing for all of us anthropomorphic mice fans. There are many iterations of rodents on hind legs with the speaky abilities, and as my draw toward the concept kicked off in kid years with An American Tail and Nimh and continued on through adulthood with comics and books that mined the same setup, it’s obvious that I’m not only not alone in that, but that there’s also something intrinsic about its appeal that starts early. So there’s a side of me that wants to just immediately love Kickily’s book, and to bet that any given youngster will love it too. There’s definitely a lot of positives contained within, with an overly positive vibe and continual sense of momentum that encourages page-flipping, and Kickily’s loose but energetic and expressive style that (maybe purposefully) mimic’s Monet’s impressionist splash of colors. As our little mouse – who is nameless, and an orphan, aw shucks – learns the tricks of the trade both from a direct teacher – Remi, a frazzled, tailless squirrel – and an indirect one, watching Monet himself, Kickily also wends in terminology and tactics without turning the book into something more dry and forcibly educational. I also appreciate that publisher Odod left the original French sound effects in, as they give the book some flavor that I think would be lost in replacing those with their English counterparts. (Though that’s a really English-centric statement.)
However, European comics tend to have a rather particular sense of framing and pacing, and Musnet is subject to that also. Our little mouse is definitely our protagonist, but his character is somewhat kept at a distance, without the hand-holding “this is his quest” type explanation that would normally accompany an Americanized version of this. In the long run, that can make for something more engaging and intelligent, but it renders this first volume more muted in terms of its immersion. The same can be said for some of the other characters, who are hard to cast as to their goals or intentions. Plenty of European comics that I’ve read use this more humanistic approach (setting aside the irony of “humanistic” to describe mice and squirrels…), but also manage to craft in enough personality or wit or drama to make the next volume of a series a must buy, and Kickily doesn’t quite get there. Musent is absolutely enjoyable, and it reads quickly, but it all ends up feeling a bit more conceptual than something designed as a start-to-finish story. Even the art, for that matter – as delightful as it is – starts to feel like a winky part of the art-appreciation package; it just made me think of the story as designed from the top down instead of characters and story upward.
I’m sure that talking-mouse-adoring me would still have enjoyed this back in the day, but I also sense that the lack of immersion I felt now would’ve meant I’d’ve been begging first for the American Tail sequel over Musnet volume 2… not that I wouldn’t welcome the subsequent volumes should they cross my path.