This is going to sound ridiculous, but Ben Hatke’s Little Robot pulls out more emotions from the reader than a Pixar movie. At least the last few Pixar movies. The story beings with a box containing our Little Robot falling into a river and making its way to parts unknown. Our other main character is nameless and we’re introduced to her as she falls out of her bedroom window. She lives in a trailer park and she gets sad watching the other kids go to school and talk to their friends. After seeing her lonely existence, we move on to her discovery of the box. After activating the robot, she runs away, but soon discovers that this little robot doesn’t know much. It can’t walk and it doesn’t have a sense of what it’s supposed to be doing. She spends the day teaching him things until she’s called home. The little girl places the robot in an abandoned car for the night and comes back to fetch him in the morning. They have fun, but we see that danger is coming in the form of a larger robot sent to collect the little robot.
There’s another problem brewing as well. The robot is looking for other robots to talk to and getting frustrated that there aren’t any. The little girl though, will do anything to keep her new friend… even lock him up.
Hatke has a wonderful balance to the story. He manages to capture friendship very well with the two characters. The little girl just wants a friend and so she’s willing to do anything to keep him. She even builds him fake robots which angers him. They both don’t understand the loneliness the other is feeling, but eventually they get there and it’s great.
The most impressive thing about this story though is the lack of dialogue. The robot and the little girl do not speak the same language which is also a great statement of children of different culture’s playing and communicating with each other without a common thread. Hatke relies on the visuals to tell the story and boy do they. In the end, their actions truly speak louder than their words.
Hatke is an experienced storyteller, but this story is pretty masterful. He uses everything to drive the story visually. What little dialogue that’s there probably isn’t even needed because the visuals are so sharp. It takes an experienced creator to know when to let the art do the work and Hatke shows that. For instance, there’s a scene in which the little girl discovers a robot foot print near a busted down fence and she figures out that they need to get going. It’s all visual, but in the hands of another creator there could have been pointless exposition to make sure everyone was on the same page.
I said this story was on or above the Pixar level and I meant that. With that comes the enjoyment for both adults and children. In that way Little Robot is all-ages because there’s something for everyone to enjoy and it’s understandable for different levels of maturity.
The art is some of Hatke’s best. I recently became a fan of his with his Space Girl Zita series, but the line work and coloring on Little Robot is just really impressive. It’s color depth is that of an animation and I’m talking an animation with a budget. His robot designs where clever, simple and didn’t feel like every other generic robot that you’ve seen. There’s a charm and personality to them visually that Hatke adds. I feel I need to reiterate just how great the coloring is. It makes this book special and I gazed at each page longer because of it.
For kids and young adults this is an easy sale. But for adults it’s a bit tougher. You probably think that I’m reviewing it just because I could or that it’s my job, but I’ll be honest I loved the look of this book before I ever picked it up. I could easily see this as an animation. Maybe it’s not for every adult, but it was definitely for me. It has a purity to the story and art that’s often times missing from comics. It’s not a comic created for kids, but rather one they can enjoy as well. If you haven’t checked out any of Hatke’s other work, then this is a great place to start.