The Middle Ground #98 | Comparisons, beware!
One of the easiest ways to sell someone on a new thing is to compare it to something else that they’re familiar with; it’s no coincidence that high concepts are generally described as “It’s [Title X] meets [Title Y]” so often, because even if you can’t explain the complexity or appeal of something to someone who’s never experienced it, that kind of shorthand is nonetheless successful at conjuring some kind of idea of what’s going on. The problem with doing this, though…? Well, sometimes the comparison examples aren’t serving the purpose as well as you may originally think.
I read Giants, Beware! the other week; it’s a book by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado from First Second, and it’s a book that I found myself comparing to Bone by Jeff Smith when talking about it to people for reasons that I wasn’t quite sure of. Part of it was the fantasy setting, and the fact that the two are young adult/kids’ books that are so well done that they genuinely can and do appeal to “all ages,” and I’m sure that Smith’s pull quote being given space on the front cover (“Fast, fun, and joyous to look at!” he says if you’re curious, and he’s not wrong) didn’t hurt, but… Giants, at its heart, isn’t really anything like Bone, at all.
That isn’t to say that Bone is a better book than Giants, Beware, or vice versa; I’ll leave that decision up to the people who’ve read both, thanks very much. But both books have different aims, despite their commonalities, and comparing the two too closely feels like it’s setting fans of Bone up with false (and somewhat unfair) expectations, because theirs is a story purposefully undercutting the epic sweep of Smith’s classic, and detourning the heroic destiny as much as Bone celebrates it; if those are the things that people loved about Bone, then it feels unfair to expect them to have the same feelings about Giants, surely? Similarly, Giants appeals in a way that Bone avoids: There’s a knowingness and more forceful humor/parody than Bone that, weirdly enough, makes it feel more suitable for younger kids who may find the more obvious comedy far easier to swallow than Bone‘s genre-splicing that can get scary as often as it gets funny (Also, Giants resolves its story in one book, which may be another plus).
It’s tempting, then, to think that Bone just isn’t the right fit, the wrong book to compare to Giants and that I should find something else to bring up when someone asks me what it’s like. But the more I think about it, the more that feels like the wrong thing to do; what I liked about Giants wasn’t that it reminded me of something else, but that its charm was its own. That, surely, is how we should be talking up things that we really enjoy – Not making them sound like retreads of other stories or ideas, no matter how much we really love those stories or ideas (Well, apart from Firefly, which really is “Han Solo: The Series”), but to explain what it is about the things themselves that appeal. And so: Giants, Beware! is funny, charming, smart and has some truly amazing art. As far as kids’ comics go, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time, and if you’re a fan of the fantasy genre and love it enough to poke some fun at it, then it’s really something you should check out.
(You know, maybe I should throw some reference to The Princess Bride in there, and – Ah, dammit. Forget I said that.)