An alien crash-lands on Earth. The creature – who is childlike, goofy, and more than a little weird looking – quickly befriends a human boy, who helps the visitor evade some government-agent types looking to capture it. Ultimately, with the help of some of the boy’s friends and a timely and awesome display of the alien’s heretofore unknown powers, said creature is able to escape the planet, taking off in a spaceship just before the shadowy agents catch up. Oh, did I mention that while he’s on Earth the alien develops a passion for junk food?
So, it’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, right? Actually, it’s a high-energy graphic novel from award-winning illustrator and cartoonist Dave Whamond. If Whamond’s book doesn’t quite rise above its striking similarity to the iconic 1982 Spielberg film (a debt the story acknowledges by having the characters watch the movie at one point), it at least provides kids a story that is full of chases, near escapes, fish-out-of-water hijinks, silliness, and a whole lot of pizza.
In fact, pizza is what initially brings the diminutive, purple-coloured Nate to our planet: apparently, the scientists who sent Voyager 1 into the cosmos in 1977 accidentally left a pizza on board, prompting the inhabitants of the planet Vega to send the intrepid Nate to bring back some more of the cheesy treat. But things go wrong. Instead of retrieving the food, Nate finds himself learning Earthly customs like reading, playing, dancing, and going to school. And he loves all of it – especially the school part. “In Vega,” Nate explains to a new Earthling friend, “all of our knowledge is plugged into our heads for us.”
The importance of learning things for oneself, and the creativity that act can engender, is one of the morals of Whamond’s story; befriending people unlike yourself is another. But this isn’t really a lesson book. Whamond, who writes and draws the comic strip Reality Check, keeps it all on a very cartoonish level, with cars that turn into snowmobiles at the touch of a button and spaceships that may or may not run on corn.
His illustrations are dynamic and strip-like and the plot races along from one implausibility to the next. Nate’s ultimate escape is a bit of an anticlimax – and we never do find out what exactly those agents are after – but Alien Nate is fun while it lasts.