Odd Is On Our Side (Del Rey)

Fred Van Lente and Queenie Chan help Dean Koontz bring his Odd Thomas character to comic book life.

 

186 pgs., B&W; $10.99
(W: Dean Koontz, Fred Van Lente; A: Queenie Chan)
 
Odd Thomas can see dead people. Other than that, he’s a fairly ordinary young man who works as a fry cook in his hometown of Pico Mundo, CA and strives to blend effortlessly into the life of a sleepy small town where juvenile delinquency is expressed through an annual ritual of stealing Halloween pumpkins from people’s porches. Of course, such an unusual ability has both advantages (it gives Odd an edge in solving crimes) and disadvantages (were his ability better known, he’d get a lot of attention he doesn’t want, particularly from the restless spirits of those who died with unresolved issues). So he’s decided to keep it a secret from most people with only his girlfriend, Stormy Llewellyn, knowing the full extent of his powers.
 
Odd is the lead character in a franchise by the prolific novelist Dean Koontz, which currently consists of four novels and two graphic novels. Odd Is On Our Side is the second graphic novel to appear, and it’s a prequel to the novels that gives you a lot of back-story as well as a straightforward presentation of a mystery story, which provides pleasant entertainment if not a lot more than that. Besides Odd and Stormy (who, despite her porn star name, is a kick-ass indie girl), other characters introduced in this volume include the eccentric but successful novelist Ozzie Boone, his editor Valerie Malavont and Pico Mundo police chief Wyatt Porter.
 
 Odd Is On Our Side is a good place to start if you’ve never read an Odd Thomas novel, since it assumes no knowledge of the fictional universe and is an efficient piece of work combining the horror/fantasy and mystery genres. It’s also a good escapist story which offers the chance to spend some fictional time in a modern-day small town where almost everyone is good and neighborly (there’s no entrenched poverty, no intolerance, and certainly nothing like the meth trade) while evil is discrete, identifiable, and subject to removal. This is a pleasant fantasy which has formed the basis for more than one mystery franchise, and the effect is heightened in this graphic novel by minimizing references to fashions or technology which would date it precisely.
 
Odd Is On Our Side is set at Halloween, which provides lots of opportunities for interesting visuals as well as for confusion on Odd’s part as spirits of the dead can blend in with ordinary people in costumes. It also provides the opportunity for a flashback to a tragic Halloween during which someone gave away poisoned candy (drawing on an urban legend which refuses to die<) which sickened many of the town’s children and killed one. Even though the crime was traced to an individual who subsequently became a guest of the state, the town has since had a “safe Halloween” celebration culminating in a party at the community center in lieu of letting kids go trick-or-treating house to house. Of course, there’s no such thing as perfect safety in our world, and Odd has premonitions that something bad is about to happen but has to figure out what and then communicate his concerns to the police without sounding like a total nut case. There’s also a subplot with some action scenes in which Odd and Stormy try to find the hidden location of the stolen pumpkins so they can return one to a neighbor child.
 
Queenie Chan created the manga-style art for Odd Is On Our Side (and for the first Odd Thomas graphic novel as well), which is effective and imaginative without overpowering the story. Her art is realistic without being too specific as far as time and place (case in point: Stormy bears more than a passing resemblance to the ageless Veronica Lodge) which is just what is required by the story, and she makes good use of the visual opportunities provided by the Halloween setting. The pumpkin thieves are just high school boys, but they look seriously threatening in their devil masks and their stash of stolen jack-o-lanterns (all those faces!) looks positively spooky piled up in the barn. I especially like the way she draws the ghost-like bodachs, spirits which appear when something bad is about to happen. They’re almost pure black and can assume various shapes, sometimes having the heads of wolves or snakes and other times becoming more amorphous. Her spare use of white in drawing these creatures is particularly effective: their pure-white eyes communicate malevolence and their bodies sometimes take on a striated aspect, which the artist describes as “ink in water” but which looks more like muscle (much more threatening) to me. Anyway, they’re effectively spooky.
 
Extras provided with Odd Is On Our Side include an excerpt from the novel Forever Odd and two interesting discussions: one about how Chan arrived at the visual form of some of the characters and another about how Van Lente adapted Koontz’s story to a panel-by-panel script. You can see a preview of Odd Is On Our Side here. | Sarah Boslaugh

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