Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Like Régis Faller’s previous Polo book, Polo: The Runaway Book (Roaring Book Press; 2005) doesn’t purport to be a graphic novel at all, but rather a rather standard children’s picture book. But it too is a work of sequential art, with page-sized single images and border-less, panel-filled pages abutting one another sequentially to tell a story.
Is being a graphic novel something a work has to explicitly declare? Because Faller’s Polo books aren’t labeled as comics, despite the fact that they quite clearly are, make them somehow not-comics? Is not-comics the default setting for all books, even those told in sequential art form, unless the book or publisher or author says otherwise?
I don’t know; I’m asking. These books certainly meet all of my criteria for what constitutes that medium that we sometimes call “graphic novels” or “comics” or “sequential art.” But the fact that this isn’t labeled as any of those points toward a weakness in those terms.
It’s only 80 pages long, has only two instances of dialogue, and is full of big, colorful, square pages—not what you think of when you think of “graphic novel.”
It’s bound, has a hard cover and a spine—not what you think of when you think “comics.”
And I don’t know if anyone ever thinks of the word “sequential art,” except Scott McCloud and people who have read his books thinking and talking about the term.
Well, whatever you call this thing, it features Polo, the dog with the bottomless backpack, back for another round of whimsical, dangerous, morally questionable adventures, with some more great art by Faller and some more fantastical settings and surreal sight gags.
Faller seems to have refined his Polo design quite a bit, as our pup protagonist now looks slightly slimmer and more elongated (surely something his readership in the recommended 4-8 age group will note immediately), and the colors are a lot warmer this time out, with more reds and complex shades than all the blues and primaries employed in the original.
Also, there are words. You see the cover up there, with Polo shouting, “My Book!”? Well, he does so twice within the book too, and it seems weird to me…like when Wile E. Coyote or the Pink Panther or Tom the cat (from Tom and Jerry) would talk.
Things open rather cinematically, with a anthropomorphic rabbit in a dress visiting a bookstore shaped like a tea-pot. There’ slitle stock there, just fifteen books, but she picks one out and has it gift-wrapped. The shopkeep is a frog. A female frog. You can tell she’s female because she has breasts. Even though she’s an amphibian. Maybe if she were a mammal, it wouldn’t seem so odd.
Also, the frog is much larger than the rabbit. This is something about Polo’s universe I just can’t get used to—the random assignation of size among species. But wait, it gets worse. After she buys the book, the rabbit goes outside and gives it to a pelican, which is even smaller than her, and totally naked. See, in Polo’s universe some animals walk upright and wear clothes, while others behave as they do in our universe.
These scenes are rendered in just four colors—red, white, black and yellow. The panels are small squares, in the middle of the pages, with lots of open space around them, and the pages themselves are red, rather than white. The panels all have borders drawn around them too, whereas most Polo panels have imaginary borders created by the place where the color of the panel meets the white of the space around it.
The pelican flies day and night to get to Polo’s little island, where it opens its beak and Polo pulls out the gift-wrapped book. That takes us to the title page. So, like, if this were a movie, that would have been the stuff that happens before the title sequence.
After the title page, we return to the expected look of a Polo book, in terms of the colors of the images, the pages and the nature of the panel borders.
Polo, who sleeps in his clothes, is reading his book in his bed at night. He clicks off his light and goes to sleep. A rope descends outside his open window, and in slides one of those little glowing moon people from the previous volume. It reads a page of the book, laughs aloud, and takes off with the book. Prompting Polo to utter his first words: “My book!”
Good thing he sleeps in his clothes. He grabs his backpack and scrambles up the rope. He’s thousands of feet in the air before the rope is cut, and is sure to plunge to his death. If not for a cotton candy cloud, which breaks his fall.
The cotton candy cloud houses a hall of mirrors, and Polo sees that the moon creature is inside one of those mirrors. He follows him in, and, on the other side of the mirror, is a vast white, infinite, horizon-less infinity.
Polo chases his quarry past a penguin knitting a scarf, and a bit of yarn entangles the moon creature’s leg, and, as it runs, the yarn line forms a landscape which Polo and the Penguin run over. At one point, they encounter a small castle with a door, and decide to enter.
But it’s alive! And it eats them!
What is going on?!
Polo decides they should eat a candlelight dinner, as long as they’re trapped in a sentient castle made out of yarn and nothingness.
He serves his new friend raw fish, while he himself has a drumstick.
I know penguins and chickens aren’t the same, taxonomically speaking, but I do believe its rather bad form to eat poultry when dining with a bird of any kind.
The penguin doesn’t seem revolted to see Polo prepared to eat a relative of its, however. It doesn’t come to that, however, due to Polo’s taste in pepper:
After the strange yarn-and-nothingness castle spits them out, the pair fall through a cloud and land on a dirigible being piloted by a giant rooster, who is the exact same size as the penguin, and larger than Polo.
A heart appears over the heads of the rooster and the penguin. Does this mean they are in love? Perhaps. Note how happy Polo is to see the rooster. Considering that he was just about to eat a chicken leg, and may, in fact, have more roast chicken in his backpack at this very moment, this is a terribly disturbing scene.
The added weight proves too much for the pedal-powered air-ship, and it sinks into the sea. The rooster and Polo stand upon the penguin’s back, and using a bit of the popped-balloon as a sail, they eventually make their way to an island.
I think something’s up with that rooster and penguin. Check it out:
Well, whatever it is, I’m sure they—
Oh come on, they just met! And they're already sleeping together!
The next morning, the trio explore the island until Polo finds a stairway. He heads straight up it, but the birds, being cowards stay at the bottom of the stairs and wave good by to the courageous canine.
Or perhaps they want to continue to consummate their inter-species love without third-wheel Polo around.
At the top of the stairway, Polo sees this:
And this reminds me of two happy memories from my youth.
It looks an awful lot like the Masters of the Universe Point Dread & Talon Fighter Playset, the first He-Man vehicle I was ever given (Sadly, I lost the Talon Fighter and the battlement stand, but I do still have the now badly-scratched record that game with it and features a little audio play about He-Man, Skeletor, Beast-Man and giant ants).
And when Polo gets in and starts flying this golden, bird-shaped ship, it reminded me of The Mysterious Cities of Gold, an awesome cartoon that used to play on Nickelodeon after school, and was one of the greatest things ever.
(Above: The opening sequence of the second greatest after-school cartoon series of all time)
God I loved that show.
But back to Polo, he’s flying around in this golden vehicle when he spots the moon man in a little hang-glider contraption, reading his book.
With typical Polo disregard for danger, our insane little friend throws himself on to the contraption, endangering both his own life and that of the little moon guy.
And for what? A book? Damn, that must be one hell of a good book, Polo.
The moon man tears a page out of the book, folds it into a paper airplane, and then rides it away.
In another mad plan, Polo lassoes the neck of a nearby duck, which is somehow strong enough to support Polo’s weight, and tries to ride it after his book.
The duck isn’t going to have any part of that, however, and bites the rope. Once more, Polo plunges to his death.
Luckily, he left the golden bird ship on cruise control, and he lands in its cockpit. And then crashes it into a desert.
Polo wanders in the desert, finds a genie, has a feast with it, watches some scantily clad elephant women dance for his amusement and is given by the genie a magic seed that grows into a giant dandelion.
Inside the dandelion? The moon thing with the book. Man, I think that thing wants to be caught.
From there, they end up on a cloud full of cloud men. A crowd of them are congregated around a ring like those in boxing matches or professional wrestling matches. Inside two cloud men battle with clubs.
Polo breaks it up with his tuba playing:
That makes this is the only instance in recorded history of a tuba being used to accomplish something worthwhile.
With the possible exception of dotting the “i” in the Ohio State University marching band performance of “Script Ohio.”
(Above: Rabid OSU football fandom is the most irritating aspect of living in Columbus, but even I have to give it up to a marching band that can pull that off. That shit is tight)
Having wooed them away from cloud club fighting with his hot oompa sounds, Polo is ushered to meet the princess of this strange cloud world, who is a pig. She and Polo have a cloudball fight (kinda like a snowball fight, but with clouds), until Polo accidentally pastes the princess’ vulture vizier, who has Polo thrown into the tower.
The tower is made out of clouds though, so he falls through the wall and into the princess’ bed. She kisses him on the cheek (Polo, you cad! What about the female rabbit who sent you that book!) and leads him to her royal cloud car, upon which he makes his escape.
He crashes it into a floating platform of moon men, and finds the one he’s been chasing, reading the book aloud to its fellows before some giant glowing mushrooms.
Despite all the trouble the lunar thief caused for Polo, and the man times Polo risked his life and those of his compatriots, all is forgiven, so its back to Polo’s island for a boat party with all the characters from throughout the story, plus a few from the previous story and some who haven’t appeared before this page, like a panda in overalls and a red dragon in a rowboat.
The moral of the story is that it’s okay to steal, as long as it’s for a good reason, and you’re sufficiently sorry when you get caught. Or don’t sleep with the window open. Or maybe it’s “be prepared, and don’t be afraid to take insane risks.” Or just that Faller is a pretty great artist, and can draw whatever he likes.