The Arizona Water Bar: Tales from the Desert Southwest
by Drew Aquilina
Green Pieces Press

"In the desert, the watering hole is a place where nature must interact on many levels."

Precious water resources, Sonoran Desert wildlife, and desert ecosystem issues converge in this humorous collection of graphic tales. When packrat Flo Webb stumbles on some abandoned drip water irrigation lines in a Phoenix-area desert preserve, she opens a wildlife water bar and declines her father's plea to assume responsibility for the family's two-thousand-year-old midden. Not only does she provide life-giving refreshment to local wildlife, but she also creates a safe, inclusive community for all with her unbreakable "no predation" rule.

Aquilina, an accomplished cartoonist, cartooning instructor, and speaker bestows his award-winning talents and wry humor in each episode, making all the tired clichés about desert life ("It's a dry heat." "It's so hot you can fry an egg.") fresh again in the fun comic strip panels. With a cast of characters named after prominent Arizona politicians and celebrities, such as the Pack Rat Webb family, Carl Desert Tortoise Hayden, Barry Burrowing Owl Goldwater, Sam Rattlesnake Steiger, and many others, the crisp story narratives will tickle the funnybone of older desert-dwelling humans while delighting the younger set with colorful graphics and the adorable antics of animal characters.

The tales often take a zany and unexpected turn, such as when Flo advertises the Water Bar as a resort online. Her advertising attracts a contingent of Galapagos penguins shipped by FedEx. They are intent upon touring Phoenix area landmarks and Arizona's seventh wonder of the natural world (the Grand Canyon) with resident roadrunner guide Paul Harvey. Another notable episode brings attention to Arizona's summer monsoon season, a salient climatic feature in the Sonoran Desert. Aquilina brings to life one frustration of this summer phenomenon: even when it doesn't rain much in this droughty era, the combination of high temperatures and high humidity are bound to bring about bad hair days, even for intrepid pack rat Flo Webb. Her frizzy fur attracts a mother hummingbird that nests on Flo's head and hatches the usual two offspring. Well-known for their aggressive territorial behavior, Aquilina's tiny baby hummingbirds drive off her regular customers with their hilarious militant antics that rival classic Looney Tunes slapstick schtick.

The cartoon collection also gives a nod to Arizona's influx of human winter travelers—snowbirds—and the state's large retirement population in an episode about an elderly spiny lizard, Lorenzo. The dominant fellow holds his own with the young rivals who seek to displace him until, after one particularly grueling day, he exits gracefully to Ye Olde Sun City Rest Home. Another episode tackles the controversial border wall issue and its deleterious effects on the migratory patterns of desert wildlife along the border between Arizona and Mexico.

The book effectively hooks readers with an introductory description and a personal bio of each character. Desert aficionados may be disappointed at the blatant non-appearance of one popular desert dweller, coyote. However, the gray wolf is brought into the mix, as are the bison trucked into a Northern Mexico range from South Dakota. In the case of the latter, the mighty creatures once thrived by the millions from central Canada into the high desert grasslands of Arizona and northern Mexico. Without a doubt, Aquilina's cartoon tales will provide countless hours of entertaining education to anyone delighted by the magic and mysteries of desert life.

A 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Next Focus Review
Previous Focus Review

Return to USR Home