Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

Doug TenNapel (sorta rhymes with ‘ten-APE-hell’)  produces quirky and interesting books that challenge the brain.

I enjoy every panel of ’em though they require some cataloging gymnastics because while they have an all-ages sensibility (an appreciation for the gross, an appealingly goofy sense of violence, enough action to keep the story moving, and kid heroes who have wit and cunning) still there’s usually one panel per book that causes me to promote ’em to our Young Adult side.

Reading through the panels you’ll occasionally hit a speed bump in an errant curse word, a realistically rendered birth scene (Earthboy Jacobus), a splotch of realistic gore (Frink), or a full size Tyrannosaur dropping  steaming heaps of dung on a neighbor’s car (Tommysaurus Rex)…

His relatively recent (2010) Ghostopolis tip-toes this line well.  There are just enough lines of low-brow slapstick humor to engage the Captain Underpants set, and sufficient interesting plotlines (and even romance!) to appeal to older readers.   This is a book I can read to the masses at our monthly Comics Jam (comics read-aloud programs) to hold them in rapt attention — without worrying too much that I’ll hit a squeamish bit.

Doug TenNapel is a fairly outspoken political conservative in ‘real’ life, a defender of Christendom against the incursions of modern culture.   An interesting and witty if occasionally prickly paladin of his beliefs, he maintains a thought provoking blog dialoguing on his mindset.  Interestingly, in his art-life, while the subtext of some of his graphic adventures resonate with the themes of the difficulty of maintaining faith under adversity, he’s never preachy.  Though almost all of his  books touch on the topic of faith in some way,  his handling of the subject is generally both nuanced and interestingly conflicted.

Oddly, in ‘Ghostopolis’, a book about a character who is pulled through a portal into the afterlife, there is scant evidence of the common orthodoxy of any religious tenets.

Well okay, there’s a near-mythical ten foot tall Tuskeegee airman, who built the cities of the afterlife in seven days, and who secretly shepherds the deserving into the after-Afterlife, but mostly we find that  ‘what comes after’ is a crowded ecosystem teeming with a multivariate ensemble of zombies, specters, boogeymen, skeletons, goblins, mummies, and bugs.   This is more akin to the afterlife of ‘Beetlejuice’ than it is to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The plot involves a  jaded and sour ghost-hunting federal agent, who accidentally sends a living boy into the afterlife.  He goes AWOL from his agency in an attempt to track him down.   The story follows both the agent (Frank Gallows) and the boy (Garth Hale) as they become embroiled in the politics of the afterlife.  Epic adventure, and loopy humor ensue.  The Both primary and secondary characters show heart and humanity as the story follows its arc to a satisfactory conclusion.

I’d highly recommend all of Doug TenNapel’s books as appropriate for highschool level and up.  The titles Creature Tech, Tommysaurus Rex, Iron West and Frink I’d recommend for middle school ages and up.  I’m very pleased to be able to finally be able recommend a Doug TenNapel book for all ages in Ghostopolis.

EDIT (9/7/11) — As an add-on, I’d also highly recommend as all-ages appropriate his book  Bad Island, which I’ll review in an up-coming post.


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