Review copy provided by First Second Books.
If you have watched Gravity Falls, you may have wondered where Thompson came from. The earnest butt of his teenage friends’ jokes, the one who is always stuck with the dare, fond, ambling, amiable Thompson. I don’t think that Drew Weing meant for the protagonist of his kids’ comic to be an origin story for that Thompson. But here we are: Charles Thompson, preteen, moving to a new city where he would have preferred his old small town. This Thompson is precise, cranky, nosey, nervous. This Thompson is physically quite similar, but he has not learned to go with the flow. He would not know the flow if he saw it. Young Charles Thompson is the anti-flow.
And then he meets Margo Maloo.
Charles–Thompson, as Margo Maloo immediately decides to call him–has a troll problem. Not with the internet, with his closet. His new friend and neighbor Kevin gives him her business card, says that Margo is the person to call. Sharp and impatient, Margo swings through his window to take care of things. Her methods, though, are not as Thompson expects, and he ends up pursuing her through her next few cases–different kinds of monsters, different parts of the city–trying to figure out what is going on and what Margo Maloo knows about it.
There is room for nearly infinite variation in this if it’s going to be a series, which it feels like it is: different monsters, different kids in addition to Charles Thompson and Margo Maloo. Different interactions with the outside world. In a kids’ comic, you have to make the choice how scary your scary things are going to be. The trolls, ogres, goblins, ghosts, and vampires in this volume, at least, threaten but do not carry through on their threats, and while they are unfamiliar shapes and colors, they seem to be at least as threatened by humans as threatening to them. Some kids are going to be scared by anything with monsters in it. But ruling out that category, it’s hard to imagine anyone else finding this book genuinely frightening. If anything, it pulls too many punches/fangs. It’s aiming for a pretty heavy message of “we shouldn’t be xenophobic, we should talk out our differences with people who look different from us, and everybody should get along.” I like that message! But I kind of feel like that message gets undermined when the person you are shaking hands and agreeing to be pals with is *literally considering eating you* rather than shaking your hand. So…Weing walks a really fine line here. Because if the monsters are basically not at all scary–which is the side I came down on, I had a very hard time reading them as scary–then people who are treating them as scary are being xenophobes, bigots, pretty much inexplicably so. And if the monsters actually might eat you…”Oh, be nice, it’ll probably be fine, let’s leave everyone else in ignorance of the danger” seems like it’s maybe not the best complete response, even if “kill it with fire” is also going too far.
So…odd little book, fun to read, fast read if you’re not new to this reading thing. Balanced a little strangely, but entertaining enough.
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