Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 344 (1/13) -- Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

The difference between a book that's "appropriate" for younger readers and one that's right for them is like that famous difference between a lightning bug and lightning -- they'll both give you some light, but you can't mistake the two. Doug TenNapel knows how to do graphic novels for kids -- not ones that parents think are good for their kids, but stories that almost seem like they were written by a band of inventive, hyperactive, super-enthusiastic kids themselves.

Ghostopolis was TenNapel's new book for 2010, and it's a bouncy, fast-paced romp through the afterlife, with a story that never stops to explain itself and amusingly oddball dialogue spoken by similarly odd characters. It's also a remarkably long book to sustain that kind of energy and style -- over two hundred and fifty story pages -- which makes its focus and shape even more impressive; it's not just a headlong rush through whatever-comes-next, but a true journey.

And the guy taking that journey is Garth Hale, a boy somewhere around ten. He's not without his own problems -- he's got some unspecified slow-acting fatal disease as the book begins -- but they get left behind when he's accidentally transported to the ghost world (inside the ribs of that "nightmare" on the cover) due to the laziness and borderline incompetence of once-great ghost wrangler Frank Gallows. But that nightmare wants to help Garth, and so does a kid he meets soon after arriving in the afterlife: his dead grandfather, Cecil.

Meanwhile, Gallows has been canned due to his screw-up, and his boss, Lieutenant Brock, is planning to lead a team to save Garth. But Gallows's ghost ex-girlfriend, Claire Voyant, also has a vehicle that can get to the ghost world, and Gallows convinces her to go with him, to fix his mistake. And then there's the repressive lord of the afterlife, Vaugner, the usual creepy white-haired Christopher Walken type, who Claire dumped long ago for Gallows. Only another living human in the ghost world can threaten Vaugner's rule, and, of course, Garth is shown to have amazing magical potential by Vaugner's scans -- so he must send his insect minions to capture and kill the boy.

The story careens onward from there, following some pretty familiar genre paths. We all know that Garth has to confront Vaugner in the end, that Vaugner has a mysterious secret origin that ties into other characters, that Claire and Gallows have to spar but be drawn back together, that Garth's still-mentally-adolescent grandfather has to grow up, that the lands of the dead have to be freed of tyrannical rule, and that there must be a sacrifice at the last moment. But we don't know how any of that will happen, and TenNapel does it all with a loose-limbed electricity and an ever-inventive eye for the bizarre and unlikely. His drawing is similarly loose and expressive, and his goofy, non sequitur dialogue is that much more charming in his blocky hand lettering. Ghostopolis has already been optioned for a movie -- and, since TenNapel is the guy who created "Earthworm Jim," that actually means a little more than it might -- but there's no reason to wait for Hollywood to flatten out Ghostopolis and tame its wild corners: it's just right the way it is.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

No comments:

Post a Comment