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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).