Jess Smart Smiley
Trick or treat? Jess Smart Smiley‘s Upside Down is definitely a treat, and if there’s anything at all deceptive about his new graphic novel, it’s how charming the simple, even roughshod-looking artwork ultimately is, and, perhaps, how far he strays from pop-culture conventions into his own idiosyncratic monster mythology.
Part of Top Shelf’s growing line of kid-friendly comics, this original graphic novel is a black, white and “Halloween green”-colored story about Harold, a young vampire that loves candy and lives in a piano with his parents. This piano belongs to an eccentric professor, who has been tirelessly working on a potion that will allow a person live forever.
At story’s start, Harold is on his way to the dentist to get his teeth looked at on the day before he is finally old enough to join his parents on a “hunt,” but ultimately has to have his fangs pulled, due to cavities. A wicked witch named Vermillion attempts to rally the last remaining witches on Earth, only to accidentally kill them all with a rain spell, making her the last witch on earth. And the professor perfects his potion, which is suddenly of great interest to Vermillion, now that she’s the last witch.
These characters and a few others crisscross conflicts throughout the book’s 15o-ish pages, those crisscrosses coming in some rather unexpected ways (in the world of Upside Down, for example, vampires don’t hunt people to suck their blood, they hunt witches, and witches can turn other people into witches, even vampires, using spells).
Today is Free Comic Book Day, and here’s a rundown of some of the comics that caught my interest. If you want to check ‘em out before you go, CBR has previews of many of the FCBD titles. (My FCBD comics came from my favorite Boston comics shop, Comicopia.)
Hands down, the one comic everybody wants is Archaia’s hardback anthology, which includes brand-new stories from six of their titles: Mouse Guard, Labyrinth, Return of the Dapper Men, Rust, Cursed Pirate Girl, and Cow Boy. The stories stand on their own but also tie in to the books in clever ways; the Mouse Guard story is a puppet show, and the Rust story features a boy writing a letter to his father (as his older brother does in the book). This book is a keeper; it even has a nameplate inside the front cover. Here’s a list of where Archaia creators will be doing book signings this FCBD.
BOOM! Studios has a nice flipbook with several Adventure Time comics on one side and Peanuts on the other. The Peanuts comics are mildly funny, but the Adventure Time side is edgier and features extra stories by Lucy Knisley and Michael DeForge. The stories are colorful and lively, and DeForge’s contribution, about a bacon ecosystem that supports tiny breakfast organisms, is downright surreal.
Jess Smart Smiley’s all-ages graphic novel Upside Down: A Vampire Tale comes out in October from Top Shelf, and he’s hoping to promote it by making an appearance on the Conan O’Brien show. So he’s drawing pictures of O’Brien and posting them on Facebook to try and get O’Brien’s attention.
“My goal is to be invited as a guest on the Conan O’Brien show and talk about the book in October, when it comes out. We can talk about other things, too,” he says on the Facebook group, “Will Draw for Coco.” “I’m drawing pictures of Conan from every episode from now (May) until October, when the book comes out. Please help spread the word about the awesome drawings and even cooler graphic novel.”