Written and Illustrated by Kirk Scroggs
Published by DC Zoom
Some people tend to take a hard pass when they hear the term ‘Young Adult’ attached to a book. I’m usually one of those people.
However, The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid is worth more than the price of admission. I can’t even begin to fathom how Kirk Scroggs created such an adorable masterpiece.
The middle school exploits of Russell Weinwright are explored through his doodle filled personal journal, which Russell is quick to point out “NOT A DIARY.”
While this is officially a graphic novel, the book is structured to resemble a spiral notebook with three-hole punched lined paper, ripped and weathered pages with food stains and colorful illustrations that don’t look too polished.
The presentation resembles what a kid’s notebook would look like.
Russell is the typical young teenager who is anything but ordinary. Dubbed “Swamp Kid” by his classmates, Russell has algae for hair, a tree trunk for a right arm, webbed toes and parsnip for a thumb.
It’s impossible not to root for Russell as he is a nice person who ranks low on the social food chain. Scroggs hilariously sketches Russell’s physical and emotional transformations, which are akin to puberty. Instead of dealing with the red scourge of acne, Russell’s index finger turns into a carrot, and his powers are starting to develop.
At one point, Russell gets embarrassed in front of the entire class when unbeknownst to him, a frog is found living in his bicep. It came off as if Russell farted in class and everyone laughed at him. Scroggs used humor to not only advance the story but to inject some educational reminders. Russell’s favorite meal is sunlight, which makes sense because he’s a walking plant that helps convert carbon dioxide pollution into oxygen. While some kids are afraid of the dark, Russell is afraid of lawnmowers because well, look at him!
Fun Fact: Sunlight tastes like hotdogs.
Like most teenagers, Russell has two loving parents, a weird teacher who he can’t stand and a couple of close friends. Preston is the annoying friend who you somehow forgive no matter what they do. Charlotte is a true blue, ride or die friend who will always have your back. She’s smart, has a heart of gold and pretty much fearless. Everyone should have a Charlotte in their lives.
Scroggs imbues various shifts in tone throughout the book to draw out the requisite emotion of the moment. Through all the shenanigans and self-deprecating humor, Russell’s mysterious connection to the local swamp begins to activate and strengthen his powers.
Swamp Thing appears not only as an essential piece of the narrative but is wonderfully illustrated throughout the book.
There is one image of Swamp Thing playing video games with Batman that made my day.
Then, Russell dons a disguise that has him looking more human. It served as a somber moment where he wondered what it would be like to look that way all the time. It is easy to understand why he wouldn’t want to deal with the pain and ridicule of his leafy appearance. Lots of kids are uncomfortable in their own skin for a multitude of reasons, and Russell is no different.
Elements of the enigmatic plot are brilliantly injected at precise times amongst fun-filled moments and serve as a reminder that a superhero-style showdown is on the horizon. A book with several tonal changes can take the reader out of the story. Here, Scroggs’ flawless execution pays enormous dividends.
Even if there wasn’t a climactic battle pitting good versus evil, getting to know Russell within these pages was a genuine treat. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a graphic novel as much as I enjoyed this one. Kirk Scroggs made me think of my childhood at multiple points throughout the book. The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid is not just an excellent read. It’s an entertaining and heartwarming experience. It will be an absolute crime if Scroggs doesn’t win an Eisner.