cover image Master Man: A Tall Tale of Nigeria

Master Man: A Tall Tale of Nigeria

Aaron Shepard. HarperCollins Publishers, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13783-0

A boastful strongman named Shadusa meets more than his match in this Nigerian story retold in comic-book panels with a slapstick bent. In earth-tone images that suggest the African savanna, the muscular Shadusa hefts giant chunks of firewood. He makes his wife call him ""Master Man,"" even though she warns, ""No matter how strong you are, there will always be someone stronger."" Inevitably Shadusa hears of a rival Master Man, and when he investigates, he sees a fierce giant who wears cow-skull bracelets and devours elephants whole. Shadusa runs for his life and escapes only because a second giant challenges the first; the men's eternal battle makes a sound called ""thunder. But now you know what it really is--two fools fighting forever to see which one is Master Man."" Shepard's (The Sea King's Daughter) characters speak in white voice bubbles with bold black lettering, while descriptive words appear in small, sandstone-colored rectangles. Although the passages themselves read seamlessly, the book proceeds awkwardly due to the uneven balance of attention-grabbing dialogue and understated inserts. Wisniewski, whose labor-intensive cut-paper spreads lent gravity to myth in The Warrior and the Wise Man and Golem, plays for laughs this time. Shadusa flexes his muscles haughtily in the early pages, but his eyes bulge at the sight of his opponent. Some readers may dislike this undignified portrayal of a cowardly African tribesman and the allusions to cannibalism; others will appreciate a few of its similarities to ""Jack and the Beanstalk"" and Wisniewski's intricate artwork. Ages 5-up. (Jan.)