Despite the angst of the long underwear crowd bemoaning the lack of superhero comics for kids, it is such a great time in comics for kids. The old model of kids going to the drug store for a few comics for a quarter is long gone, but it doesn't matter as libraries and book stores have a healthy stream of all ages graphic novels, not to mention that you can find great age appropriate webcomics too.
The latest young adult graphic novel from publisher Scholastic is Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel (creator of the videogame character Earthwork Jim). TenNapel has created a spin on the traditional notions of purgatory, etc., by creating an afterlife way-station that functions very much like actual life with a city and different groups living together in it. This gives TenNapel lots of room to stretch his visual imagination with skeletons, mummies, goblins and zombies populating the crowds. The art is very sharp and TenNapel does a great job with the main characters — a boy named Garth and the "supernatural immigration officer" Frank Gallows who accidentally sends Garth on into Ghostopolis. There's also Claire Voyant, Gallows' ghost girlfriend and Garth's grandfather Cecil. So much of the "world" that TenNapel built here is full of details and vibrant imagination that you're really sucked right into the book from the get-go.
Probably because it deals with death (and when the story opens, Garth is very sick) and some of the images could be a little intense for very young kids — this one is probably better for 10 years or up. Just a guess really as my kids are younger than that and I'm not sure I'm going to let them read it… yet.
In terms of the plot, TenNapel does a nice job of adding dimension and purpose to lots of the characters. Gallows of course wants to save Garth, but he also has to figure out how to deal with his damaged relationship with Claire Voyant. Garth's grandfather Cecil needs to overcome the fact that in life he never grew up and Claire Voyant has to address that she doesn't quite fit in life or death. Garth himself realizes his path as the story goes on (I'm trying not to give any surprises away here!) but ultimately he has to defeat the bad guy and save the day.
I did see another recent review which criticized the ending of the book as a bit of a cop out. I think in retrospect, that reviewer is absolutely right, however, I didn't feel that myself in reading it probably because the premise is set up so well and the story is very strong for so much of the book that its momentum carried me through the ending on a wave of enthusiasm for the book and its characters. Also, the book does a nice job of tying up so much of the goals and motivations it threw into the mix that the ending is very satisfying (and even suggests a whole universe of sequels TenNapel might pursue). In fact, it's not all that surprising that a movie adaptation of the book is already set up (with Hugh Jackman attached, presumably to play Frank Gallows). I wouldn't say it's high concept in Hollywood speak, it's too clever for that, but in the right hands a faithful adaptation would make a very good mainstream movie.
Ghostopolis is a great fantasy story with some nice positive messages as well, definitely worth checking out.
The publisher provided a free copy of the book to ComixTalk for review purposes.