Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review - "Ghostopolis"

I have long been a supporter of graphic novels for young readers. I'm a comic book girl from way back, and when I first took up my position as Children's Librarian, one of the first things I promised to do was increase my graphic novel collection, including books for all my ages. Some books were a bit tricky (I wavered on where to place G. Neri's Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty for days) and some were an instant success (with less than five minutes on the shelf, Ranpunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale was snapped up by eager hands). Ghostopolis, the latest from Doug TenNapel, was another that gave me cateloguing pause, but it eventually found it it's way onto my middle grade shelf.

TenNapel's title city is a roaring metropolis of the dead ruled over by a tyrannical despot named Vaugner, and young Garth, a living boy, has just been plopped down in the outskirts of it by a washed-up ghost hunter named Frank Gallows. While Garth's nervous mother waits, Frank promises to return from the afterlife with her son, and enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend Claire, a ghost among the living. While making his way to the center of the city, Garth is helped by a Nightmare, a skeletal horse, and the ghost of his grandfather, Cecil, who saves him from Vaugner's menacing bugs and knows he must get Garth back to the land of the living. Meanwhile, Vaugner hunts him, fearing that the boy has come to the afterlife to overthrow his rule.

There's a lot floating around Ghostopolis; an active mythology involving a Tuskegee Airman named Joe, the looming danger of Garth's real-life health issues, Vaugner's backstory and his grip over the many realms of the dead (including mummies, skeletons, spectors and goblins), Frank's relationship with Claire and his apathy regarding life in general. It's a lot to expect from only 266 pages, but the skill in TenNapel's work is that you never feel rushed, overwhelmed or cheated. I would have liked to know more about Joe and the work he does in the afterlife, but even his small space of story is enough to be clear and understood. The art goes a long way towards making this world relatable. Bold drawings and colors, alternating between light and darkness, give Ghostopolis depth, and TenNapel uses black and white panels to great effect in creating an emotional resonance.

I love recommending graphic novels, and not just to reluctant readers, though they are great for that purpose. I will put Raina Telgemeier's Smile in the hands on anyone who will let me. A graphic novel has just as much capacity for literary fullfillment as a traditional novel, and sometimes can offer even more. Ghostopolis is rich in both story and character and will make a great recommendation for fans of Goosebumps, ghost stories and more.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
2010, Scholastic Graphix
Library copy

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