If I was in charge of collection development for my local library system, I’d be considering ordering 2-3 more copies of every graphic novel by Doug TenNapel, since earlier this year it took me two months to get my hands on even one copy for a graduate school assignment. Those things just won’t stay on the shelves! Graphic novels are a genre that I don’t have much experience with or knowledge about, but when several friends recommended TenNapel’s books to me, I thought it was high time I dove in and saw what all the fuss was about. Verdict = the fuss was entirely merited.
I read Ghostopolis earlier in the year, and tore through Tommysaurus Rex and Cardboard in the past few days. You guys, they’re so much fun! One theme that I’ve latched on to in TenNapel’s work is the idea of transformation. He seems to kind of delight in taking a thing or person and making it bigger, better, different. Turning a beloved dog into a friendly dinosaur. A spiteful neighbor kid into a loyal friend. A large suburban house into a cardboard kingdom. There are big, life-changing experiences happening on the page, and it’s even a little transformative for the reader, I think, to go through that journey with the characters.
Another thing I’ve been noticing about graphic novels, and TenNapel’s in particular, is the way that I am totally willing to buy in to whatever outlandish premise they ask me to accept. Does that happen to you too, or is it just me? In the first 30 pages of Cardboard, Cam and his dad Mike create Bill, a life-sized champion boxer, out of a cardboard box. Five pages later, Bill comes to life and accidentally punches out Mike, and I don’t pause and think, “How come his cardboard arm didn’t crumple in half?” I’m sold. In Ghostopolis, ghost hunter Frank uses “plasmacuffs” to send a phantom horse back to the afterlife, because of course that’s what you use. The visual elements (and, I think, the graphic novel’s relationship to its wildly imaginative comic book cousins) open the door to all kind of crazy things without the exposition that would be needed in a text, and it’s decidedly a whole lot of fun to be swept away in.
This genre is especially fun, I think, because the art of graphic novels helps me to see the whole thing unfolding as a movie in my imagination. Character’s facial expressions, the traditional comic sound effect words, the arc of an arm throwing a punch; it all gives the stories a great cinematic quality that you don’t get in a traditional novel. I think all of these stories would make fun movies, and apparently somebody else agrees; a post from Doug TenNapel’s blog on March 6th indicates that a screenwriter has been selected for a big-screen version of Tommysaurus Rex. Excellent!
Check out Doug TenNapel, Story Warren-ers. I think you’ll like him.