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Review: The Not-So Secret Society

Matthew and Arlene Daley’s Not-So Secret Society promises an adventure appropriate of all ages, crafted by its creators’ background as parents and educators. In my initial review of the preview material I expressed tentative optimism toward the work, an engaging and original story about five friends and a machine that can bring candy to life; my only hesitation was born not from the comic itself but from the promises made by others like it. Educator-made comics, I noted then, often sacrifice quality for instructional relevance.

Having had the chance to read the full volume, I’m relieved to say that The Not-So Secret Society is not guilty of the crimes of its peers. The Daleys have crafted a story that integrates a healthy enthusiasm for the principles and curricula of S.T.E.M. (that’s fancy teacherspeak for “science, technology, engineering, and math”) while keeping true to the core of the world they’ve crafted.

In talking about what The Not-So Secret Society does right as an educator’s comic, it’s ironically most important to discuss the parts of the comic that don’t explicitly deal with educational material. We first meet Ava, Aiden, Madison, Dylan, and Emma – the titular “Not-So Secret Society – as they attempt to crack open a doorway to a mystical world in a subway station. From the outset, it becomes clear that this is a work that is not so overly concerned with its educational aims that it will forgo making a little mischief along the way. What’s more, the fleeting glimpse of something closing the mystical portal from the other side suggests what the Society might find itself exploring next, or it might be a clever sight gag: either way, it’s a promise that this story is not so enamored with the hard sciences that it forgets the crucial role that imagination plays in any kind of learning.

As I read on, it became clear that the Daleys were driving toward that exact point with their story. The Society’s involvement in a city-wide science fair, a rivalry with fellow scientist team The 5Zs, and the revelation that their “living candy” experiment all quickly swerves the work toward science fiction rather than science fact, and left me wondering about the classroom application of the work as a whole – that is, until I stopped reading the work as a testament to the joys of hard science and started to appreciate it for what it was: an extremely well-crafted work about the importance of ethics and morality in the S.T.E.M. fields.  While there is a little light science mixed in here and there, the bulk of the narrative seems far more interested in the why and how rather than the what – a unique angle that’s both far more essential and much more engaging.

When the results of the Society’s science fair endeavors come to light, so do questions about why science-minded kids like them might go into the field to begin with. Is it for fame and adoration, as seems to be the case with their rivals in the 5Zs, or is it, as Aiden puts it, to invent things for themselves? It is after all when the Society stops focusing on trying to upstage their peers that their work gets the most traction: though they miss out on the big prize, their work gains them the respect of a visiting scientist and an open invitation to visit her at a neighboring museum.  The message is one of collaboration over commercialism, functionality over publicity, ethics over ego. It’s a monumentally timely message for students leaning toward the fast-paced and results-focused field of applied science.

Taken as a comic book, The Not-So Secret Society does a great deal to make itself visually as well as conceptually appealing. Wook Jin Clark’s art style is reminiscent of the Saturday morning cartoons I grew up on with a bit of a manga flare thrown in for good measure (note the exaggerated “shock” lines when a character is taken by surprise, or the phantom limbs that mark where arms and legs were when a character makes a quick gesture). The paneling that makes up most pages is clean and easy to follow, frequently broken up by splash pages that do a wonderful job of setting the tone and scope of the Society’s world while making exceptional use of Elonora Bruni’s immensely varied color palette. The world of the Society looks expansive, vibrant, and alive, the perfect mix for the enthusiasm that the Society (and the Daleys) bring to the story.

Following the main work are a dozen-plus short comics using the central Society characters and showcasing their further exploits in school, around town, and elsewhere. Each is put together by a slightly different creative team and all do a nice job fleshing out the main characters – which, if I’m being fair, is the one area that the main story fell a little flat.  The backup stories do a nice job of expanding on the Society members’ personal quirks, something the central did in passing whenever it could but never had the time to which to devote a great deal of exposition. Also of note is a series of reading guide questions following the story, which I will go into in more detail in an upcoming review.

Suffice to say that The Not-So Secret Society avoids all of pratfalls of other educator-comics by being original enough to be a work all its own. NS3 is a comic that is not concerned with educational content but educational practice, and thereby becomes something of a uniqueness amid the myriad of S.T.E.M. works already on the market. From an educator’s standpoint, The Not-So Secret Society certainly has a place in elementary- and middle-grade classrooms, both as a way to introduce an interest in the potential for the future of hard sciences and to act as a sort of ethical calibrator.  The Daley’s work serves to expose students to not only what they can do with a background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but why and how they ought to do it.

An Educator’s Take on The Not-So Secret Society

Matthew and Arlene Daley’s The Not-So Secret Society is the next in a long line of comics made for and by educators with the explicit purpose of classroom use – a line that often varies in its quality and content, but generally has its heart in the right place.

As both an educator and an advocate for the intellectual and academic merit of the Comics medium, I’m firmly in the middleground of excited and tentative when a new educator-based comic is announced. Where content is concerned, I’ve seen more than a few well-intentioned educators more or less butcher the medium through fundamental misunderstandings of how comic books function, resulting in little more than an illustrated textbook; where tone is concerned, I’ve been disappointed more than once with a sanctimonious, pedantic tone struck toward a reading audience that we teachers know – we know – responds best to guidance when it comes from a place of mutual respect and openness.

Thankfully, The Not-So Secret Society appears to avoid both of these issues.  Billed as “an all-ages adventure that celebrates the value of teamwork and lifelong friendships”, the Not-So Secret Society follows the misadventures of a group of friends whose science fair project, a candy-making machine, inadvertently unleashes more than they bargained for on their city. The preview copy I had the chance to read promises a straightforward and accessible all-ages romp without a trace of condescension. Characterization of each of the main characters is clearly defined, if a little cut and dry, and follows the “stock school clique” format you’ve seen before – which, given the target audience, isn’t surprising nor a negative. The art is easy for young eyes to follow without being so simple as to lose the interest of older readers; there’s plenty of detail in the backgrounds and enough of a Saturday cartoon vibe to evoke memories of Recess, The Weekenders, and other dearly departed early morning classics.

I am curious to see where the co-creators’ education experience will come to pass, as the bit of the issue I was given to sample played very little to overt pedagogy or any kind of explicit subject area content (or, really, anything apart from setting up the story itself), but as far as I am concerned that is a good sign. If the Daleys can take a story about a candy-machine-gone-bad and somehow spin it into a lesson worthy of classroom inclusion, then more power to them.  There’s also the equally-valid notion that the endgame is the focus on “teamwork and lifelong friendships” that the overview promises, which has its place in the classroom but is less in demand as an explicit lesson, especially in the era of truncated instructional minutes and concerns about time, time, time.

Perhaps not surprising is the boost of confidence I feel for this title knowing that it is being published by an imprint of BOOM! Studios. BOOM! has become an easy favorite of mine over the past year for its fearless embracing of that which falls just shy of the traditional comic book reader’s tastes while still maintaining a family-friendly atmosphere. Titles like Adventure Time and Steven Universe come to mind, but also Lumberjanes, The Backstagers, and the masterful Power Rangers reboot all speak highly of a publisher that, while not as flashy as the big guys, certainly knows how to choose its horses in each race.  I may still be on the fence when it comes to the direction that The Not-So Secret Society will lead, but its inclusion alongside such noteworthy titles is worth consideration.

Don’t misunderstand: The Not-So Secret Society is still a young reader’s book. I can see its simplified structure and easygoing narrative style as an excellent fit for a late elementary school classroom, and clever development of the story might even suggest it as a contender for middle school libraries – but beyond that, I think it’s easy to pass on this one unless you’re an educator, mentor, librarian, or otherwise have a vested interest in this work’s intended audience.

The Not-So Secret Society makes for an easy read for the young comic book reader in your life, with its easy visuals, straightforward storytelling, and the publishing power of BOOM! behind it. I’m excited – and hesitant – to see where the Daleys take their candy-coated adventure, and whether it lives up to all that it could be.

BOOM! Announces The Not-So Secret Society Events & Educational Guides

Discover science, candy, and awesome adventure in The Not-So Secret Society, an all-new all-ages graphic novel from BOOM! Studios, available now in comic shops and bookstores everywhere!

The writing team of Matthew Daley and Arlene Daley call on 25 years of combined education experience to create this thrilling coming-of-age adventure featuring five young friends inventing a candy-making machine for their school’s annual science fair…and unintentionally unleashing a colossal candy creation that could destroy the city!

Co-created by Macrocosm’s Trevor Crafts and Ellen Crafts, and illustrated by Wook Jin ClarkThe Not-So Secret Society is an all-ages adventure that celebrates the value of teamwork and lifelong friendships. This original graphic novel is supplemented by parent guides and educator guides (newly expanded to celebrate the release) included in the book and more to be found online.

To support the launch of this original graphic novel, the creators at Macrocosm will appear at a variety of upcoming Not-So Secret Society interactive events including signings, meet and greets, presentations on creating comics, and special gummy bear raffles!

  • Children’s Book World in Los Angeles on Saturday, August 19th from 2:30-3:30pm
  • Barnes & Noble at the Grove in Los Angeles on Saturday, September 9th at 1:00-2:00pm

For more on The Not-So Secret Society check out their website where you can get FREE downloadable activities for kids, parent and educator guides, information on upcoming live events from the creator team, and even listen to the official theme song!

Preview: The Not-So Secret Society OGN SC

The Not-So Secret Society OGN SC

Release Date: 7/26/17
Publisher: KaBOOM!, an imprint of BOOM! Studios
Writers: Matthew Daley & Arlene Daley
Artist: Wook Jin Clark
Cover Artist: Wook Jin Clark
Price: $9.99

Writing team Matthew Daley (Lantern City) and Arlene Daley call on their combined 25 years of education experience to create this thrilling coming-of-age adventure. Co-created by Trevor Crafts (Lantern City) and Ellen Crafts, and illustrated by Wook Jin Clark (Adventure Time: The Flipside), The Not-So Secret Society is an all-ages adventure that celebrates the value of teamwork and lifelong friendships.

Madison, Dylan, Emma, Aidan, and Ava have pretty normal lives for a group of 12-year-olds: They go to school, participate in extracurricular activities, and oh yeah, they also have AWESOME ADVENTURES.

Together they form The Not-So Secret Society. But when they invent a candy-making machine for their school’s annual science fair, things don’t go according to plan . . . and their candy creation comes to life and escapes, threatening to destroy the entire city!

Preview: Lantern City Vol. 2 HC

Lantern City Vol. 2 HC

Publisher: Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios
Writers: Matthew Daley & Mairghread Scott
Artist: Carlos Magno
Cover Artist: Benjamin Carré
Price: $24.99

Sander Jorve thought that infiltrating the brutal Guard of Lantern City would help his family and his cause. He was wrong. After a chance run-in with the Emperor of the city, Killian Grey, Sander finds himself promoted to the Grey Guard, working directly under Killian in the heights of Grey Towers. The luxury is unparalleled, but can Killian be trusted? Can Sander trust himself? Nowhere in Lantern City is safe…and the imperial court may just be the most dangerous place of all. Collects issues #5-8 of the steampunk epic.

LanternCity_V2_Cover

Preview: Lantern City #12 (of 12)

Lantern City #12 (of 12)

Imprint: Archaia
Writers: Matthew Daley & Mairghread Scott
Artist: Carlos Magno

Final issue! Sander, Killian, and Kendal face off for control of Lantern City.

LanternCity_012_A_Main

Preview: Lantern City Vol. 1 HC

Lantern City Vol. 1 HC

Imprint: Archaia
Writers: Paul Jenkins, Matthew Daley & Mairghread Scott
Artist: Carlos Magno

Sander Jorve just wants to keep his wife and son safe. Living in the brutalized lower class of Lantern City means living in near-constant darkness, the enormous walls of the city always looming overhead, while the upper class enjoys the elevated, interconnected towers and airships above. When Sander’s brother-in-law, the persuasive activist Kendal, convinces him to infiltrate the brutal ranks of the Guard, he’s set on a dangerous path that will test his abilities and beliefs, all in the name of making a difference for his family and his caste. Collects issues #1-4.

Lantern_City_v1_cover

Preview: Lantern City #11

Lantern City #11

Imprint: Archaia
Writers: Matthew Daley & Mairghread Scott
Artist: Carlos Magno

The battle for Grey Towers rages and loyalties are divided.

LanternCity_011_A_Main

Preview: Lantern City #10

Lantern City #10

Imprint: Archaia
Writers: Matthew Daley & Mairghread Scott
Artist: Carlos Magno

Sander attempts to save Lantern City from Killian’s schemes as the Fortache army approaches.

LanternCity_010_A_Main

Preview: Lantern City #9

Lantern City #9

Imprint: Archaia
Writers: Matthew Daley & Mairghread Scott
Artist: Carlos Magno

New story arc! While Lantern City falls into chaos, Killian introduces Sander to another civilization living far outside the city walls.

LanternCity_009_A_Main

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