Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ray Friesen

A Cheese Related Mishap and Other Stories
by Ray Friesen
Recommended Age: 10+

This is the first "graphic novel" I have ever reviewed. I don't plan on making a practice of it, since I don't feel that the Book Trolley's mission lies in that area. Much as I prefer, and promote, reading an honest-to-golly *book*, I picked up this slim, colorful volume at the urging of its teenaged author, who visited the Book Trolley himself and asked me oh, about 3 years ago, to review his book. (He even offered to send me a copy, but understandably I didn't think that would be worth his expense.)

A Cheese Related Mishap is billed as Volume 1 of "Lookit! Comedy & Mayhem," and published by "Don't Eat Any Bugs Productions." See the author's website for more info on the series, which now also includes Yarg! and Other Stories and Another Dirt Sandwich. This first volume contains a succession of outlandishly silly panel-cartoon episodes, featuring such characters as Raymond Q. Wonderfull, a nebbishy superhero named Captain Cautious, a cassowary named Tbyrd Fearlessness, a talking penguin named Mellville, a similar-looking superhero-sidekick named Batguin, and a bunch of ninja chickens.

The wackiness is at times funny, at times over-the-top. There were moments, in reading this book, when I set it down and said, "I can't deal with this any more." Nevertheless I dealt with all of it, and enjoyed some of it. My discomfort may stem from being too mature to giggle at the kind of stuff kids giggle at, though I doubt it; only one part of my old "31 on on the outside, 13 on the inside" slogan has changed, though it is one thing to be 13 in 1985 and another now. I do appreciate that Friesen combines a relentlessly boyish goofiness with the ambition and talent to put out three books like this. But pure goofiness can get tedious sometimes. And even given the most compelling graphic novel, I would still be obliged to say: *This medium will never, can never, must never replace the plain old novel.*

No graphic novel can surpass, or even come close to, a regular book in the power to stir the intellect, the imagination, and the emotions. Young people may find graphic novels easier to digest, however. Graphic novels provide a more rapid transfer of information, more immediate gratification. But these enhancements come at a price. Subtlety and complexity of detail are lost, along with the ability to absorb them. The individual reader's mind is not exercised in creating its own imagery to go with the words. Logical connections are obliterated by the rigidly chronological sequence between panels. Many dimensions of a story are flattened into a square frame. And depths of character motivation and other information are replaced by cartoon characters' mugging and speech- and thought-bubbles strictly limited in the amount of information they can contain. The bottom line of this unnecessary sermon is: If you get hooked on graphic novels, you may never learn to enjoy a *real* book - and that would be a pity, because graphic novels filter out a vast majority of the information that brings joy to an avid reader of books. For an example illustrating similar problems, check out this website showing what Lincoln's Gettsburg Address might have been like as a PowerPoint presentation.

The graphic novel is to fiction what PowerPoint is to business and technical writing. I recently read a book that insinuated that the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy might have turned out differently if NASA hadn't relied on PowerPoint presentations. If PowerPoint filters out enough important information to cause spacecraft to burn up in the atmosphere, graphic novels may do as much damage to world literacy. If you want to promote a world where people know how to solve problems, think for themselves, and experience true joy in a still moment alone with an author's words, for all love keep reading books. But if you can do all that and you still have a few minutes available for a panel-cartoon book sparkling with juvenile wit, feel free to enjoy the Lookit! series.

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