Friday, March 14, 2008


Kean Soo

Jellaby is an all-ages graphic novel that follows a young girl, Portia, as she befriends a big purple...creature...that she dubs Jellaby (to his approval). It's a really cute book, very fun and magical. What struck me about the book right away was the interior pages - they're all purple (with the exception of a few spots here and there). And Soo plays with the different shades and hues very effectively, making them an integral part of the comic experience. In a scene that takes place within the first ten pages, kind of a play on something you see in comics all the time (that of a character moving down a corridor or something, with panel dividers that show his movement by placing him in different parts of the art as he makes his way along), Portia walks down the hall of her school in three different panels, and in each panel, she's in a different place as she walks along, the colors all a muted pale purple, with the exception of the dark purple of Portia herself and a door as she closes it behind her, or a group of students as she watches them while passing by. It's not the most brilliant thing ever, but it stayed with me and I kept looking the page over.
Portia is an interesting protagonist as well. She's lonely and has a tough time making friends, possibly due to the fact that she puts on a touch exterior and tends to zone out in school. But she makes an effort to be good, eventually confronting bullies for others, or getting into trouble herself to help out another. She soon becomes friendly with a boy who loves to antagonize her, Jason, as he discovers Jellaby and they work together to keep him safe. Besides all of this, Portia's father left her and her mother when she was younger and she's having a tough time adjusting to things, worrying her mother, disregarding authority figures and keeping others at a distance. But once Jellaby comes along, looking lonely and hungry in the forest outside of her house, Portia suddenly steps up to take care of the creature, sneaking him food, playing with him, and keeping him a secret from those who would take him away. At first I kind of thought that Jellaby might be a figment of her imagination, as he fills a lot of roles that she lacks in her life. He's a friend to her. He's her conscience, prompting her to help out boys being bullied, and there's a really nice scene where Portia wakes up from a nightmare and crawls out onto the branch of a tree outside of her window to curl up with him, like he was protecting her, or perhaps filling the role of the parent that abandoned her. But it turns out that Jellaby is real, as Jason can attest. And while they don't know what he is or where he came from, they seek to help him out, the end of this graphic novel "to be continued" as the children travel with Jellaby to a place that looked familiar to him in a newspaper.
The flashbacks do seem a little harsh for an all-ages title, her history a little brutal, but kids can take it, and it all rings true in the end. Jellaby is altogether a very quick read, but a really enjoyable one. The mysteries are intriguing, the dialogue between the characters is sharp and funny, the characters themselves are believable and multi-layered, and the art is amazing. And it's hilarious. One scene that I loved was when Portia goes to Jason's house to find out what happened to Jellaby after she was escorted from school by her mother. She's absolutely dumbstruck when she sees them watching television together. In disbelief, she asks Jason if he's letting Jellaby watch Godzilla, to which Jason replies that they're watching the far superior Revenge of Godzilla. Even cuter is Jellaby's reaction to the movie, as he starts stomping his feet and trying to look fierce. Until Portia turns off the TV and tells him to play with his pony, which he obliges to do also, dutifully combing its hair.
I certainly recommend this book, and if you have your doubts about it, check out the generous 62-page preview at the Hope Larson/Kean Soo-run site The Secret Friend Society. Also, check out the cute art of Jellaby in the role of Super Mario, Hellboy, and a Totoro!

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