[Paul Counelis checks in with a new installment of Monster Kid Corner.]
Over the years, the comic book industry has undergone a massive transformation, to say the least. In the ’60s, comics racks were filled with mostly superhero and comedy-style cartoon books, largely aimed at a younger crowd. Some books, such as Casper the Friendly Ghost, appealed to a twelve-and-under readership with their light and amusing themes. The superhero books probably had a slightly larger audience, with teenagers scooping up their favorite title when it came out at a monthly or bi-monthly clip.
Now, of course, comic books have spawned a multi-billion dollar media phenomenon, with increasingly spectacular films supplemented by plenty of movie, character and comic related merchandise and toys. Perhaps the strangest part of the recent crossover success of the medium is that a majority of those movie goers, toy collectors and comics readers are adults.
The “Big Two” in the comics publishing world, Marvel and DC, as well as the other major and indie comic labels have made numerous attempts at getting the younger crowd in on the act a little more, with cartoons, Free Comic Book Day promotions and even revamps and re-launches of their more successful titles.
At the same time, horror comics have become one of the more sought after genres, with huge titles such as The Walking Dead and adaptations featuring the further adventures of horror icons like Freddy and Michael Myers. Occasionally, there are horror related titles aimed at the younger crowd, but many of those seem like re-hashes or re-visits of older material.
Enter Upside Down, a new 144-page graphic novel written and illustrated by Jess Smart Smiley and published by Top Shelf Productions.
The first striking thing about Upside Down is the simple use of a tri-color scheme, which is boasted of as being “black, white, and Halloween green.” It turns out to be quite a clever maneuver, with the green alternately softening and creating a distinct and unique mood for the book.
The story is also a simple one, though not predictable in the least. Harold the Vampire, who lives in the belfry of a (really nice) “mad” scientist, has little to no interest in consuming blood; rather, he loves candy – and has eaten so much of the sugary stuff that his once powerful teeth have rotted and must now be pulled out (via dentist, natch). Harold feels that he has let his parents down now that he can’t really function as a vampire, and runs off to live with a family of bats.
Along the way, Harold and his bat-friends run into a witch, Vermillion, who is looking for a little revenge. Vermillion discovers that the scientist has been working on a potion that will grant eternal life, and now it’s up to Harold to save the day (and the world, as it were).
The tale of Harold and friends is bizarre, fun, outlandish and very original. The book rolls along at a nice pace; it’s easy to visualize the entire project as a really strange cartoon, tackling somewhat grim themes (besides Vermillion, all the witches of the world are dead) with a humorous and oddly appealing bounce.
The art is also a lot of fun. It’s consistent and even a tad bit creepy, though only the youngest of readers would find anything to be sincerely afraid of. The book recalls Roald Dahl in its ambition and ability to speak to kids without being condescending.
Truth be told, I had a fun time reading Upside Down, and I anticipate that my eleven-year-old daughter will get a huge kick out of it when she finds this cool, Halloween-y graphic novel in her stocking on Christmas morning.