REVIEW: ‘The Rez Detectives’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Rez Detectives

I’m a big fan of graphic novels about kids, especially kids of color, that I didn’t see often enough in comics growing up. The Rez Detectives is a middle-grade graphic novel from the creative team that includes writers Steven Paul Judd and Tvli Jacob. M.K. Perker penciled, inked, and colored the artwork in the book, while Cynthia Canada and M.K Perker provided the cover art with letters by Charles Martin and Jonathan Koelsch. Published by Literati Press Comics, this middle school age-appropriate graphic novel centers on two Indigenous kids, Tasembo and Nuseka, and a dog named Billy Jack solving a big mystery on the Reservation.

With a start of a story that many young readers will relate to, The Rez Detectives begins at the beginning of summer with the Ice Cream Man missing in action and the local kids wondering what has happened. Kids are really out there, suffering in the heat with their piggy banks, jars, and socks full of coins looking for sweet, delicious relief. Tasembo, the amateur detective, is exiled from his home to do something productive; he visits his neighbor Nuseka, the smartest kid around who is on her science experiment grind before she, too, is kicked out of the house.

When the most popular girl at school visits Nuseka with a plea to figure out what possible tragedy has befallen the local hero that is the Ice Cream Man, Tasembo schemes his way into the mix by announcing that he and Nuseka are partners and takes on the case on their behalf. Throw in his loyal and strange dog, and the first case for the Rez Dog Detective Agency is open and ready to be investigated!

There are so many great visuals in this book, and Perker’s art style caters to showing the emotion of the page not just through facial expressions but body language too. This is seen so well when the two detectives chat up locals and gather clues: crying children, baffled adults, and overbearing bullies all make their mark. This comic is enhanced by the coloring and lettering for sure: certain panels like Tasembo getting chewed out by a little girl half his age stands out, as does our introduction to the Ice Cream and his decked-out novelty truck.  Not to be forgotten, Martin and Koelsch’s lettering work helps the action almost pop on on the page with great energy and style.

The Rez Detectives is such an incredibly fun graphic novel to read through that ends with a satisfyingly sweet ending. I really would have loved to see more backstory to our two child detectives: why does science mean so much to Nuseka? When did Billy Jack the dog start his transformation to a trenchcoat-wearing canine that talks? How long did the nickname “Sticky Boogers” float around for Tasembo before the events of this issue? Any insight on how that wrecked vehicle ended up in a tree? Still, a pretty solid first outing for Tasembo, Nuseka, and Billy Jack as this issue follows all the right beats for a mystery solved with memorable scenes and funny moments. I would have also loved to see both kids as characters be explored more outside their “nerdy girl” and “roughhousing boy” character tropes, yet I can’t deny the appeal this book has and that I’d love to see more cases to be solved.

It is only in recent years that I’ve seen a serious push in the visibility of Native and Indigenous folks in comics and graphic novels for young readers created by creative teams of people of Native and Indigenous descent.  Writer Judd and IllumiNative, a native-led nonprofit that works to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society, will supply free copies of Rez Detectives to all public and reservation libraries in Alaska and North and South Dakota. This is exciting. As a reader and consumer of comics, I’m always looking for more works centering on marginalized folks by creative teams of marginalized people to make the stories that need to be told.

The Rez Detectives is an incredibly fun, age-appropriate graphic novel for younger readers at the elementary and middle school grade levels. Centering on Indigenous youth solving a big case in their community, Scooby-Doo and Harriet The Spy fans will enjoy this case of kids saving the day and the future career of the ice-cream man on the Reservation.

The Rez Detectives will be available on December 8, 2021.


The Rez Detectives
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TL;DR

The Rez Detectives is an incredibly fun, age-appropriate graphic novel for younger readers at the elementary and middle school grade levels. Centering on Indigenous youth solving a big case in their community, Scooby-Doo and Harriet The Spy fans will enjoy this case of kids saving the day and the future career of the ice-cream man on the Reservation.