Ghostopolis (Scholastic)

Earthworm Jim/Catscratch creator Doug TenNapel returns with another done-in-one graphic novel, this one telling the tale of a ghost wrangler who accidentally transports a young boy to the afterlife while he’s still alive.

 

228 pgs., color; $14.99
(W&A: Doug TenNapel)
 
I’m of two minds about Ghostopolis, the latest graphic novel from the prolific Doug TenNapel (creator of Earthworm Jim, Catscratch, Creature Tech and lots more). I love the book’s visual inventiveness but the story is pretty ordinary (even considering that the target market is kids ages 10-13) and TenNapel likes to lay on moral lessons with a trowel. Just to get this out of the way, I have nothing against tales of redemption and/or transformation (both are staples of classic literature as well as comics and the movies) but a little subtlety and trust of the audience is always a good thing when delivering Weighty Morals. My other objection is that Ghostopolis feels like it was written with Hollywood in mind and sure enough there are already plans for a Hugh Jackman/Disney film adaptation.
 
In the world of Ghostopolis, the separation between the worlds of the living and the dead is extremely porous and ghost wranglers have the job of chasing down and retrieving those who have escaped from the land of the dead. The aptly named Frank Gallows, whose general demeanor is reminiscent of sad sack Gil Gunderson from The Simpsons (who was based on Jack Lemmon’s portrayal of the desperate Shelley Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross), is a none-too-skillful ghost wrangler who accidentally transports the story’s young hero Garth Hale to the next world while he’s still alive.
 
That’s a good setup for a story (it certainly worked for the Oscar-winning Here Comes Mr. Jordan) but TenNapel adds an unnecessary complication. Garth seems to be a normal, full-of-beans young adolescent, but in reality he’s suffering from Hollywood Disease, which means that he’s incurably ill but looks and feels fine. Adding this plot element feels totally manipulative (although it does give his Mom the chance to shed some tears) and, rather than deepening the story, actually cheapens it.
 
The next world as envisioned by TenNapel is a pretty cool place full of skeleton horses (one of which offers its services to Garth) and mummy squirrels. Garth meets his grandfather, who tells him how Ghostopolis was built by a Tuskegee airman (really!) name Joe. See if you can spot the culture-wars references in the following passage: ”Some say that it took him six days to build everything. Others say that it took him a billion years. It’s hard to say how long it took since time is all jumbled up in Ghostopolis. But Joe is a mysterious guy. Most of us have never even seen him. We only know him by the work he’s done.”
Meanwhile back in the living-world, Frank recruits his old flame Clare Voyant (who is not clairvoyant but, thanks to being dead, is free from the restrictions of earth-based physics) to help him retrieve Garth. And we learn that Ghostopolis has its sinister aspects, primarily in the person of an evil guy named Vaugner who tricked everyone into thinking he was a good guy then showed his true colors once he was in power.
 
TenNapel’s art is the strong point of Ghostopolis. Every frame is well-crafted and full of interesting details, and TenNapel is certainly not lacking for visual ideas to bring his story to life. There’s a charming eclecticity to his work also: he has no problem cutting from an ordinary sunlit scene to a series of really cool silhouettes, or from a goofy cartoon style to something more like the set of a German expressionist movie. If anything, there are too many ideas and not enough development in Ghostopolis, as if the artist would rather draw something new than work with what he’s already created. He also has a tendency to throw a lot of action into the frames toward the end of the novel, which puts me in mind of many popcorn movies that substitute a lot of CGI and explosions to try to cover up the fact that neither the scriptwriter nor the director can figure out how to resolve the story line.
 
You can learn more about the author on his web page http://tennapel.com/ and also see him at work on YouTube videos such as this one, in which he discusses and demonstrates inking. | Sarah Boslaugh

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