Leon: Protector of the Playground, by award-winning comic book creator Jamar Nicholas, is a love letter to childhood.
But let me back up a little.
In 2013, I attended Wildcat Comic Con in Williamsport, Pennsylvania as a guest. I was given a VIP pass, a booth in the vendors area, and an hour to talk about myself before serving up trivia questions. I was struggling to hang my Media Medusa banner on my assigned table when Jamar’s friendly face poked through the curtain. He kindly offered to help me, because it was clear I was a newbie and fairly clueless. Between the two of us, we got the banner up, and thus began a lovely friendship between two comic convention regulars.
I was unfamiliar with his graphic novel, Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence. I read it sometime later, and I was suitably impressed. I was impressed with Nicholas and his prodigious talent, but I was also impressed with myself for having made his acquaintance. (It doesn’t take much for me to impress me.)
I was happy to receive an email from Nicholas, asking if I would like to read and write about his latest project, Leon: Protector of the Playground. This original comic book is a labor of love, and the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Playground and Beyond
Leon is a young boy whose superpower is common sense, which is in short supply in elementary school. His mother is also a superhero, named Miss Magnificent. His friend Carlos’ mother, Lynn Krunk, is a former superhero. Although Leon is surrounded by superheroes, Leon: Protector of the Playground isn’t so much about BAM and POW, as it is about being a kid, and all that kids have to deal with.
Leon has a frenemy, named Clementine Justice, a hall monitor who resents Leon’s status as a hero. While she has minions, he has friends. There is also a group of bad guys, of course. The Steeple-Fingered Villains hold meetings in the Treehouse of Tyranny. They, too, are annoyed with Leon and hatch a scheme to take him down.
In an interview with Black Girl Nerds, Nicholas said that he hated being a kid. He said he was frequently disillusioned with other kids when they didn’t turn out to be as honest or as forthright as he was. His dislike of childhood informs Leon: Protector of the Playground, but it isn’t an autobiography. Nicholas fills the background of his panels with details that flesh out the day-to-day pressures and aspects of being a kid in 2017: someone takes a selfie after a castastrophe; a stray axe is buried in the wall of the hallway; a trading card negotiation goes south.
Always Looking Up
Although Nicholas portrays the negatives of being a kid, he does it with so much humor that the final picture is a softer, sweeter version. Leon is generally a positive, optimistic kid instead of an angsty kind of guy. His friends are just as chipper. Even though Clementine can’t stand Leon, they are cut from the same cloth and wind up working as a team. Plus, the names of the characters and the school aren’t super serious, like Principal Principle and Guillaume Elementary, “Home of the Fightin’ Pigeons.” All of these chuckle-worthy elements add up to a fun story about a kid trying to do the right thing.
I’d also like to point out that, unlike a lot of entertainment for kids, Leon: Protector of the Playground doesn’t turn the grown-ups into either tyrants or idiots. Too often the parents in a comic book, or on a TV show for kids, are completely clueless about their child’s activities. That, or they turn out to be the enemy. The grown-ups in Nicholas’ book are responsible, caring and thoughtful. They are the true heroes in Leon’s life.
I thoroughly enjoyed Leon: Protector of the Playground, even though it’s targeted at kids. All of us, I’d wager, keep our childhood selves just under our skin, so it’s not difficult to relate to Leon and his friends.
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