Tuesday, April 11, 2017

This was my favorite part of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

It is a two-page sequence in which 14-year-old Doreen Green's best human friend Ana Sofia asks her if she actually knows the individual names of all of the scores of squirrels that have gathered around their tree house, and Doreen proves it by pointing them out one by one. This goes on for one giant paragraph that fills two pages before Ana Sofia finally cuts her off.

It reminded me of the list of Seven Hundred Hobo Names in John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise, although the section here doesn't really compete, in large part because writers Shannon Hale and Dean Hale don't even try to hit 700, although I think they could have if they really wanted to put the effort in (Also because as funny as squirrels might be, they are just not as funny as hobos).

I was a little wary of this book, which I listened to on audiobook (Recommended! I liked hearing a grown woman speaking aloud lines like "Chkkt!" and "Chktt-kit" and so on pretty much constantl) rather than read, as that is my preferred way to consume prose fiction. The reason I was wary was because what I like most about Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (the comic) is the way that Ryan North and Erica Henderson make it, as a comic, rather than anything in particular about the character, as likable as she may be (and as awesome as squirrels might be).

That said, I ended up really enjoying the book, which is geared towards a juvenile audience (I'll likely talk about it at greater length in the next installment of my occasional-ish "Everything Else" feature). It probably helped that it was a sort of secret origin Squirrel Girl story, set a good five years or so before Squirrel Girl's current comic book series, and that its continuity was murky, somewhere between that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel (comics) Universe.

But back to squirrel names for a moment. I had always assumed that it was Squirrel Girl who came up with the squirrel names and assigned them to her squirrel friends. After all, of the two she has adventured with the longest--Monkey Joe and Tippy-Toe--the former doesn't seem like the sort of name that a squirrel would come up with for itself. I mean, how would a squirrel even know what a monkey was in the first place? It's not like monkeys are commonplace in North American suburban neighborhoods. Rather, it seemed like the sort of silly name a silly teenage girl might give to a pet.

But in this book it is made quite clear that the squirrels come up with their own names (or, at least, their parents name them). That really rather blew my mind. A large portion of the book is told from Tippy-Toe's point of view--the POV character changes from chapter to chapter, and Tippy-Toe gets a lot of those chapters--so we see squirrel world from her vantage point, on the inside, and yeah, that was her name all along. Doreen didn't give it to her.

As I said, my favorite part of the audio-book was the above section, which is funnier when read aloud than it is sitting there on the page (the narrator's performance of Squirrel Girl's texts to Iron Man are similarly funnier when heard than they are when read), but now that I am looking at it in print, I find myself feeling somewhat disappointed by at least one of those squirrel's names (several of them are Marvel Comics in-jokes, by the way). One of the squirrels is named "Geraldine Ferraro." Spelled just like that, rather than a squirrel-ized "Geraldine Furraro." Seems like a lost opportunity, but still funny, I suppose.

Anyway, Squirrel Girl: Not just in comic books anymore!
There's a little art in the book, too. The cover image is by a Bruno Mangyoku, and you'll notice that Squirrel Girl looks somewhat off-model there. That is intentional, as the costume she ends up wearing in this adventure is a sort of accidental, ad hoc one, and it predates the Steve Ditko-designed one of her first comic book appearance, or any of the later updates to follow.

Mangyoku also draws Tippy-Toe on the back cover and on the inside of the book; I don't like how cartoony his Tippy is, as she resembles a television cartoon squirrel rather than a real squirrel, and I found myself wondering why they didn't just have Erica Henderson (or anyone from Marvel Comics, really) handle the handful of illustrations. There is a really nice image on the end-pages though, of Squirrel Girl in silhouette, leaping in front of a bright full moon above a city skyline. Tippy-Toe is by her side, identifiable by her bow, and a whole cloud of squirrels follow Squirrel Girl, almost like a second tail. I imagine this is from Mangyoku too (no other artist is credited anywhere). It's a really great, even beautiful image.
Elle Collins took this picture, and it ran with her review of the book for Comics Alliance, which I still haven't read, because I don't like to read reviews of stuff I'm gonna write about until I write about them myself. But there's no reason you can't read her review now!
So hell, I don't know. The audiobook was really fun and funny to listen to, but the book allow you to check the spelling of those squirrel names and has those nice end-pages. I guess I'm torn here. Maybe borrow the audio-book from the library, and buy the book from the store? Or just borrow them both from the library like I did...?

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