Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ghostopolis GN

Doug TenNapel

Ghostopolis joins the ranks of high-quality books printed by Scholastic for an all-ages audience through their Graphix line that includes Bone, Amulet and Copper.  Frank Gallows, a ghost hunter who's pretty down on his luck, is charged with investigating reports of supernatural activity and sending ghosts back to the after life, where they sometimes find a way to escape from into the human world.  On one particular mission, he's chasing a skeletal horse that's causing more trouble for him than usual, when he sends the beast back to Ghostopolis, inadvertently sending a young boy, Garth Hale, back along with it.  Frank, fired from his job and feeling dejected, turns to an ex-girlfriend, who happens to be a ghost herself, and together they travel into the afterlife to undo his mistake.  Meanwhile Garth has befriended the ghost horse and explores Ghostopolis, hoping to find a way back home, bumping into his grandfather during his travels, who offers to assist him.  This book jumps back and forth between Frank and Garth's stories, eventually intertwining into a single narrative that sees them battle the tyrannical ruler of Ghostopolis.

This is a very imaginative book.  TenNapel has a lot of fun ideas for Ghostopolis and its outlying areas in the afterlife, complete with different rulers for the various kingdoms, and a variety of monsters from mummies to werewolves to giant bugs.  He has a great cartoony style that lends itself well to this sort of tale, and excels in depicting both action sequences and those quieter character moments.  His designs for the creatures in this title are wonderful, especially for Skinny, as Garth calls his ghost horse, and many of the creatures encountered.  The title sort of meanders a bit, and is sometimes just plain weird, but it all kind of works, building toward an epic conclusion, grand in scale.  I do wish we'd gotten to see a fuller picture of some of the outlying areas of Ghostopolis, and even of Ghostopolis itself, but there's already a lot going on here, so I can understand why a lot of the world was left unexplored.  The storytelling is very cinematic, very fluid, paced wonderfully by TenNapel.  And while it is a book about monsters and death, it's not so scary that it will give kids nightmares.  There's enough humor in the title, particularly when it comes to Frank and many of the depictions of monsters, that curb the potentially frightening stuff enough to make it just good fun, more of an adventure fantasy story than one of horror.  I appreciated the bright colors of Ghostopolis as well, especially liking the red and green panels that bathe the final panels during the big battle.  One thing that I found distracting, however, was when TenNapel illustrated a panel with a black background, and just painted the characters white without any more detail.  It worked in a few instances, but especially toward the latter part of the book, these panels came rather frequently and seemed to be random.  Usually they would depict action, but sometimes not, and certainly never seemed more significant than any other panel on the page.  I just didn't understand the thought behind them, and found myself noting them when they came up, taking me out of the story.  And they were just unnecessary, although I admit that I didn't mind it in a scene between Garth and Skinny after they first met.  Overall, I really enjoyed this title however, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of titles such as Amulet and Jellaby, although recent all-ages titles have a long way to go to come close to the near-perfect stories depicted in Jeff Smith's Bone.

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