Saturday, July 24, 2010


"I know alot about you. And I'm rooting for you anyway."

In a world where originality is not so much being stifled as actively strangled. I look forward to each new work from Doug TenNapel with the eagerness that a drowning man looks forward to a gulp of oxygen.

TenNapel writes stories unlike anything you’ve ever read. They crackle with wit and humor. They twist with the skill of an expert plotter, and have a real moving soul. If you’ve never experienced the pleasure of a TenNapel book, then get thee to they local comic book shoppe and grab a bundle.

"Ghostopolis" follows a young boy with a terminal disease, who is sucked into the afterlife thanks to the mistake of a semi incompetent agent of the government’s ghost monitoring police. In the afterlife he finds a world made up of bits and pieces of various eras and religions views of the great hereafter ruled over by an otherworldly despot, whom he inadvertently becomes enlisted to unseat.

In the meantime the agent who trapped him over on the other side, tries to right his mistake and the relationship he ruined with his great love.

All that and the single greatest Benedict Arnold joke I have ever seen.

The Arnold joke is a perfect example of what TenNapel does right. The joke, “Random historical figure. Lulz.” Is hardly rare in a certain segment of the indie comics set. But TenNapel doesn’t merely stop at the random and obvious jokes but builds it into a running gag, which ends up playing off not merely our knowledge of the character, but his own character’s. It is in fact the exact opposite of the usual, “Hey remember this from sixth grade history gag.” TenNapel work has the unmistakable mark of someone who cares even in the gags. Far from slapdash it’s the work of a master craftsman.

TenNapel’s line work is deceptively simple. But The amount of emotion he’s able to express with it, and more importantly the nuisance of range of said emotion, is just staggering.

Doug’s outspoken Christianity often has him accused of narrow mindedness. The proof however is in the pudding, and love and detail with which TenNapel incorporates different cultures afterlives into "Ghostopolis" speaks for itself. Narrow minded? Hardly. TenNapel’s is an imagination of boundless curiosity and warmth. And I would envy it if it wasn’t so wonderfully singular

And if Tenapel’s theology in real life is a bit more fundementalist then my own brand of liberal Catholicism, the theology in his art is warm and inclusive. Forgiveness in TenNapel’s view is infinite, but not automatic. Without effort, without penance from the side of the forgiven, it will not take root. I am always moved in art not so much by people making themselves heroic, but by making themselves decent (See also "Scott Pilgrim"). And the concentrated effort with which the principles in "Ghostopolis" strive towards that goal, gives the book a real moving weight. TenNapel writes books that are among the most breezily entertaining I’ve ever read. But they’re not larks.

"Ghostopolis" isn’t his best book (And if you’re starting out, I recommend "Iron West", "Monster Zoo", or "Creature Tech" which is his masterpiece). The narrative is split between its too leads for too long for too long. And He goes a bit broad near the end with the villain literally screaming “HHAAAATTTTEEEEE” and the hero making scatological jokes. All reminding the reader that while TenNapel’s books have all had a demented child’s sense of play, this is still the first written specifically for children.

Still I can’t help but envy the lucky child who gets this as an introduction. Just how much he has to look forward to as he grows up with TenNapel.

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