Saturday Morning Comics | Stellar Panels

Saturday morning cartoons may be a thing of the past, but the genre is living on in graphic novels. These 10 novels and series bring back that Saturday morning feeling with mad scientists, talking animals, and zany superheroes. 

10 graphic novel covers

There was a golden time, in the second half of the 20th century, when Saturday mornings were the best part of the week. Across the country, children would wake up early, pour a bowl of sugary cereal, and spend the morning watching cartoons about funny animals and square-jawed superheroes.

Saturday morning cartoons, in the literal sense of the term, are a thing of the past. DVDs, cable TV, and streaming services have made it possible to watch cartoons anytime, the rise of youth sports gave kids something else to do on Saturday mornings. Adults complained about the violence and general silliness of the cartoons, pushing for more wholesome (but often less fun) children’s programming.

Stellar Panels logoThe genre lives on, though, in the hearts and minds of the kids who grew up on those cartoons and went on to create graphic novels in the same vein. While many vintage animated series, from Scooby-Doo to She-Ra, have been resurrected in comics form, creators have also come up with plenty of original stories.

Here are 10 graphic novels and series that bring back that Saturday morning feeling, with mad scientists, talking animals, zany superheroes, and plenty of silly humor. Grab a bowl of sugary cereal and settle in for some good old-fashioned fun!

Cat Ninja by Matthew Cody and Yehudi Mercado (Andrews McMeel, 2020)
Gr 2-3 —Claude is a cat who was taken in by a ninja master as a kitten and trained in martial arts. Mr. Squeakers is a hamster with the intelligence of a mad scientist. Now Claude is a superhero ninja (and popular internet meme) and Mr. Squeakers is a monocled supervillain, although the brother and sister they live with are unaware of their pets’ secret lives. The kids are preoccupied with their parents’ separation, and when their dad brings a giant dog, Adonis, into the picture, things get even weirder. The book starts with two short stories and then moves into a much bigger tale that involves everyone, even Adonis, in a massive showdown in the best tradition of superhero comics, although in the end it’s family, rather than superpowers, that saves the day.

The Incredible Rockhead: The Complete Comics Collection by Sean Tullen, Donald Lemke, and Scott Nickel, illus. by Christopher S. Jennings (Capstone, 2020)
Gr 3-6 —Chip Stone was an ordinary schoolboy with the usual problems (bullying, cute girl who thinks he’s gross) and one good friend, Spencer. All that goes topsy-turvy when a mad scientist known as General injects Chip with a serum that makes his head turn into a giant rock. This makes him clumsy but also lets him smash through walls and rescue his classmates from escaped zoo animals. Meanwhile the General is turning other schoolkids into mutants, but Spencer makes his own sidekick costume and helps Rockhead save the day. The story moves fast, with three-four panels per page and occasional fake ads that, like the characters themselves, tip the hat to vintage comics. Capstone has been putting out goofy graphic novels about silly superheroes for years, and this is one of several collections that were published this year; others with a similar vibe feature Monster and Me, Princess Candy, and Zinc Alloy.

"InvestiGators" by John Patrick Greene (First Second, 2020, 2021)
Gr 2-5 —Mango and Brash are secret agent alligators who are always equipped with the latest gadgets and travel through the local sewers (giving Greene plenty of scope for toilet humor). Their first case, in InvestiGators, involved finding a missing pizza chef and investigating an explosion at the Science Factory. In the second book, InvestiGators: Take the Plunge, they are sent to destroy a piece of computer code that combines things with other things, but they transmit it instead, and suddenly there’s a robot on the loose who is melding people and objects together by hugging them. The third book in the series, Investigators: Off the Hook, came out in February. These graphic novels have a lot in common with Dav Pilkey’s “Dog Man” books: They’re silly, surreal, and filled with cartoony action, with straightforward art and layouts and a joke in almost every panel.

Katie the Cat Sitter by Colleen AF Venable, illus. by Stephanie Yue (RH Graphics, January 2021)
Gr 3-6 —This story starts out like a middle-grade drama, with Katie doing odd jobs so she can afford a week at camp with her friends, but it hops on the crazy train when she takes a job sitting for her neighbor’s 217 cats. These are no ordinary felines: They know how to use the bathroom, surf the net, and steal sofas from the landlady (a running joke). As time goes on, Katie begins to suspect her neighbor is actually a super-villain, and that this super-villain is actually a superhero. Somehow Venable and Yue (who previously collaborated on the “Guinea Pig: Pet Shop Private Eye” series) have come up with a story that’s both hilarious and heartfelt.

Lola's Super Club: My Dad is a Super Agent by Christine Beigel, illus. by Pierre Fouillet (Papercutz, 2020)
Gr 2-4 —No sooner has Lola’s father tucked her in and turned out the light than she is out the bedroom window, looking for adventure with her toy dinosaur Super James in tow and her cat Hot Dog tagging along to make sure no one gets into trouble. Trouble crops up anyway when supervillain Max Imum kidnaps her parents, and Lola chases him with an ever-increasing entourage (a pirate, a pair of skeletons, a scribble monster) in order to rescue them. That’s just one of the two stories in this book; the other is a time-travel adventure. Both unfold in a stream-of-consciousness manner, as Lola and her crew leap from place to place without much of a plan. Fouillet’s art has a wobbly, unpolished look but it is crammed with details, which makes for a fun read.

Max Meow: Cat Crusader by John Gallagher (RH Graphics, 2020)
Gr 2-5 —Max Meow was just a simple vlogger till he took a bite out of a space meatball and gained superpowers. Now he’s a superhero, keeping the residents of Kittyopolis safe with the help of his friend, the scientist Mindy Microbe, as he wards off a supervillain, a rat who disguises himself as a cat for his job as a golf pro, and a flying robot who’s anxious to please. Gallagher keeps the panels, character designs, and layouts super simple, and fills the story with goofy humor, making this a good pick for young readers and an especially good choice for Dog Man fans.

Sparks! Double Dog Dare by Ian Boothby, illus. by Nina Matsumoto (Scholastic, 2020)
Gr 4-8 —Two cats who have escaped from a mad scientist’s lab dress up as a dog to fight bad guys and perform heroic rescues in this funny and fast-paced sequel to 2018’s Sparks! The cats, Charlie and August, are helped by a sentient litter box that serves as a sort of Alfred the Butler and hindered by a squirrel who talks nonstop. In the first volume, they fought off a space alien disguised as a baby, and in this book, they have to contend with an evil twin who is running around causing disasters and giving them a bad name. Both books are chock-full of running gags and silly situations.

Student Ambassador: The Missing Dragon by Ryan Estrada, illus. by Axel Eneas (Iron Circus, 2020)
Gr 4-6 Up —After winning an essay contest with his account of how he talked down a bask of crocodiles, eight-year-old Joseph Bazan becomes a student ambassador and gets to meet the president. During that brief visit, Joseph resolves a diplomatic crisis with empathy and common sense, and the president is impressed enough to send him on a one-day mission to stop King Nang of West Ruhar, who is the same age as Joseph, from starting a war. The two are complete opposites, but when mysterious men try to kidnap the king, the boys elude them and go on a lengthy, adventure-filled journey. What makes this book so fun is the way Joseph carefully listens to the people around him and picks up on details that turn out to be important later on. A second volume is in the works.

“W.I.T.C.H.” by Disney (JY, 2017-2021)
Gr 5 Up —Created by Disney and first published in Italy, "W.I.T.C.H." is a magical-girl fantasy series starring five 13- and 14-year-old girls who are given the elemental powers (earth, air, fire, water), with the fifth girl, Will, assigned to be not only the Guardian of Energy but also the keeper of the sacred jewel. The girls’ everyday life is interlaced with the mystical battles they must fight, so this is both a slice-of-life story and a fantasy, filled with heroes, villains, and false friends. There are 23 volumes in the series, with the last two slated for release in February and April 2021, but the story is broken up into arcs of three or four volumes apiece.

Wonder Pony by Louise Spenale (KaBOOM!, 2020)
Gr 4-7 —Louison has just started boarding school and she’s finding it a bit of a challenge, with her roommate Sam who is friendly one minute and cold the next, her other roommate Ann who is tirelessly enthusiastic and upbeat, and a cute guy, Max, who barely notices her. Her fortunes change when a toy pony endows her with the strength of a pony (that may not sound impressive, but as the pony points out, “We’re more jacked than you think!”). Like “W.I.T.C.H.,” Wonder Pony is sort of a magical girl/slice-of-life mashup, with a fair amount of friendship and relationship drama, but Louison also has to fight giant broccoli and other crazy monsters. The art is done in a curvy, manga-influenced style that many readers will find familiar and comfortable.


animated TV graphic (covers flashing on screen)






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Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, editor of the “Good Comics for Kids” blog, writes “Stellar Panels” SLJ’s graphic novels column. 

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