Sara Varon is a cartoonist who can be hard to pin down. Since her debut Sweaterweather she’s made a series of award-winning graphic novels like Robot Dreams and Bake Sale, and picture books like Chicken and Cat and President Squid. Her stories feature animals and other characters, the art is playful, with stylistic influences ranging from animation to ligne claire. Her stories manage to tackle complex issues in thoughtful nuanced ways. It’s easy to describe her work as designed for young readers, but they’re layered stories with stories and themes that aren’t inappropriate for young readers. Robot Dreams for example might appeal to children because of the style and some elements of the story, but I think it remains a story best appreciated and ultimately understood by adults.
Her new book New Shoes is very much a part of this tradition. Set in Guyana – or at least a Guyana in a world with anthropomorphic animals – it tells the story of Francis the donkey, a shoemaker who is forced to leave his village for the first time. It’s a story about friendship and work, problem solving and crises. It also features Varon drawing capybaras and sloths, manatees and anteaters, among many other creatures. It’s a funny and beautifully drawn book about work and life, and it is the work of a great cartoonist at the height of her powers.