Doug Tennapel ~ Graphix, 2011
I long ago gave up presuming what my son might think is scary. He's an excellent judge of what his brain can and can not handle, and I've miscalculated the creep factor on many a family-friendly movie or book with disastrous results. Having seen all the Harry Potter movies by the time he was seven, read the Hobbit when he was six, and watched every current episode of Doctor Who by eight and a half, I'd still say his most traumatizing life moment came while watching Snoopy almost leave Charlie Brown for his original owner, Lila, in the 1972 television special Snoopy Come Home. And while the rest of the under-ten set love 'em some Jack Sparrow, one little trip down the river on the Pirates of Caribbean ride at Disneyland had my son swearing off the franchise for life.
So I was shocked at first when he took a shining to the work of Doug Tennapel. First Ghostopolis... then Cardboard... then Bad Island.
It's not that Doug's stories are scary. Most of the time the relationships and sentiments are pretty G-rated, even if the pictures are dark and doom-filled. There are enough monsters and dead people and big teeth and evil neighborhood boys to scare the crap out of a gentle animal-lover like my boy, yet he gobbles them up like popcorn. Doug is definitely one of of my son's favorite authors as far as graphic novels are concerned, and I have to say I do sneak reading them myself from time to time.
This one stars a family with all sorts of small, interpersonal drama. The son is thinking of running away from home. The daughter ruins the mother's favorite plant when she gets angry. Mom and dad bicker over what snacks to pack for the family vacation.
The scenario seems pretty all-American until their family boating vacation takes a turn for the worse, and the foursome is shipwrecked on what can only be described as... well, a bad island.
All the while, another story is being set up, a battle in the past between crazy crab monsters and giant rock creatures, but we don't fully come understand how the two stories intertwine until the end.
I'm always impressed with how seamlessly Doug pulls off intertwining current humdrum facts-of-everyday-life with an other-world sense of magic without it coming across as too cheesy. Very intense and creative stuff, dealing with all sorts of themes like death and inner fear and family dynamics and, of course, the destiny of unknown universes. Sort of Iron Giant-esque and very well-illustrated.
I won't give away what makes the island so bad, as you need to read the book to find out for yourself. But I will say this, as my son has gotten older and demanded more and more graphic novels, I've had to get used to not spending quarters and dollars on books like in my full-on thrift shop days. It's not too often that good graphic novels end up on Goodwill shelves or in the penny sales on Amazon. Particularly in the juvenile graphic novel genre. That's what makes places like Half Price Books a godsend for graphic-bookovores like my son, but even they can't keep us stocked adequately. Though the library has recently started sporting a juvenile graphic novel section, the pickings are pretty puny. I've definitely made my way back into being a full-price bookstore patron. Good thing I got a job last year. ;)