Sunday, March 02, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #61: Upside Down by Jess Smart Smiley

The main strand of stories for kids and young people runs heavily to morals and righteousness, from the Brothers Grimm to the latest batch of dystopias. But there's a counter-strand of silliness and nonsense -- maybe descending from Edward Lear; maybe older than that -- that takes the matter of the morals and twists it into knots, just because.

Jess Smart Smiley's first graphic novel, Upside Down, is in that latter tradition, even if it's not precisely "for kids." (It's described as "for all ages," which is the term comics publishers use when they realize they're not good at marketing into the very kid-specific channels but still hope to pick up kid readers.) This is a goofy story that follows its own logic -- a very kid-story logic, where events flow into each other as if in a story told by an energetic elementary-schooler -- through to the end, telling a very engaging, silly/serious tale as it goes.

Harold is a young vampire; he lives with his parents in a piano belonging to the brilliant scientist Professor Adams. But he loves candy too much, and so on his first trip to the dentist he has his all-important biting teeth pulled, which makes him think he'll never be a good vampire, since he can't hunt. Meanwhile, Vermillion accidentally becomes the last witch on earth -- but not for long if her plans work out. And Professor Adams creates an elixir of eternal life, which Vermillion wants to get for herself.

Smiley's story rambles around those elements, dragging in Vermillion's frog familiar Edmond, two brother bats that Harold meets, and Harold's parents, before finally wandering over into a happy ending. The plot is unpredictable at every moment, which is a wonderful thing in a book for kids, which usually run down the very same rails every time. This is a deeply silly book, and that's a lovely thing.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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