Ghotopolis, written and drawn by Doug TenNapel, presents a story that deals with familial love, mortality, humanity, and the things that tie us all together.
The story begins with a young, terminally ill boy named Garth and his mother, who is desperately trying to find a cure for her son. At the same time, Frank Gallows is a tired, washed out ghost hunter working for the Supernatural Immigration Task Force. Usually these two storylines wouldn’t cross, but on one unfortunate day of ghost hunting, Gallows accidentally sends Garth into the afterlife.Faced with a mother’s desperation and fired from the SITF for negligence, Frank decides to take Garth’s rescue into his own hands and ventures into the afterlife on a solo mission.
In the meantime, Garth faces the dangers of the afterlife – a place filled with dinosaurs, zombies, skeletons, mummies, and werewolves, among many other frightening creatures. To make things worse, the afterlife is being governed by a power-hungry man who has banished the afterlife’s creator, Joe. Fortunately for Garth, he befriends a skeleton steed to help him out of danger, and discovers he has some special powers of his own to combat the afterlife’s mad dictator.
Though Ghostopolis is marketed towards a younger audience, it possesses so much depth and meaning that it can appeal to readers of all ages. Ghostopolis’s art consists of solid lines and bold colouring that gives its pages a cartoony, surreal feel that compliments the feel of the afterlife.
At the same time, Ghostopolis’s art reinforces symbolism that cannot be conveyed solely with words. After meeting his grandfather in the afterlife, for example, Garth is told the story of the afterlife’s creation. “It was all built by one man,” says Garth’s grandfather, “a mysterious Tuskegee airman named Joe. He made every mountain you see, laying one chunk of sand at a time. He stacked every brick in Ghostopolis so that ghosts would have a place to live. Some say that it took him six days to build everything. Others say that it took him a billion years.” While Garth’s grandfather is relating the origin of the afterlife, the comic shows Joe – a man with a shaved head, equipped with a handyman’s belt and worker’s boots. Joe is unremarkable in any way, but one frame shows a close up of his hands, which are pierced through the palms. The image alongside the grandfather’s words emphasizes a religious reference that would not have been as vivid if conveyed with only words or image alone.
Beyond Ghostopolis’s striking art and gripping storytelling, it is most admirable for its head on confrontation with difficult issues. Even if it is a graphic novel marketed to children, it does not shy away from the complexities of death, dying, and the terminally ill. Furthermore, through a combination of art and dialogue, it takes a stand on issues of religion and the afterlife that most graphic novels would avoid. TenNapel’s decision to tell a story with a worldview, rather than toe the line between right, wrong and acceptable, is most touching of all. If nothing else, it is worth a read for this alone.
If you enjoy Ghostopolis, be sure to keep your eye out for the Ghostopolis movie, scheduled for release in 2013 with Hugh Jackman playing the part of Frank Gallows.