Ghostopolis is a 272 page graphic novel for middle graders published in 2010. It’s the story of Garth Hale, a boy who is dying of an incurable disease, who gets accidentally plucked out of bed and sent to Ghostopolis by a ghost hunter named Frank Gallows, a downtrodden officer from the Supernatural Immigration Task Force. Garth has to survive in Ghostopolis, an afterlife populated by loads of imaginatively rendered creatures, and ruled by the terrifying Vaugner, with only the “night mare” Skinny as his guide. Meanwhile, a horrified Frank is summarily fired, and tracks down his ex girlfriend, Claire Voyant, who has built herself a plasmapod designed to travel between this world and the next. Who will Garth meet on his journey across Ghostopolis? If he gets home, will be survive his illness? Will Frank and Claire get back together?
I bought this one as a Hanukkah present for my nine year old, and he loved it. In fact, he’s already read a second TenNapel graphic novel, Gear. I then had to wait for my eleven year old son also to read Ghostopolis before I got my chance. Here’s what the younger guy had to say:
Jessica: Max, how did you like this book?
Max: I thought it was a very good book, even better than Bunnicula.
Max: Because it had lots of things going on that all ended up into one. And it had lots of action. And mystery.
Jessica: Do you think it is scary?
Max: No, but there are some gross parts. Like when they had the mummified elephant poop. And there is one character who is scary.
Jessica: Would that be Vaugner? The evil overlord of Ghostopolis?
Max: No, but I can’t tell you who because it would be a spoiler.
Jessica: Spoiler? Where did you learn the word spoiler?
Max: I learn things and I have no idea where I learned them.
Jessica: What does “spoiler” mean?
Max: It means it ruins the surprise.
Jessica: That’s how I see it too. Okay, what was your favorite part?
Max: I like the part that was sort of a spoiler.
Max: It was when they found Joe in the Bone Kingdom. Joe is sort of like a god. He built the place.
Jessica: Why is Joe like a god?
Max: Because in the story it said it took him “six days” to build Ghostopolis, which some say it took God six days to build the world.
Jessica: Wow, You were really listening in Hebrew School, weren’t you?
Max: Yes. And when it shows Joe, he has holes in his hands, which is like Jesus.
Jessica: Wait a minute. They didn’t teach you that in Hebrew school. Have you been watching Davy and Goliath again?
Jessica: Is there anything special about Garth?
Max: Yes, Garth has an ability to make a streak of lightening come from his body.
Jessica: Is there any fighting in this book?
Max: Yes, especially at the end where the have they big fight.
Jessica: I liked that there was no blood or gore. Very imaginative fight, visually. Who was your favorite character?
Max: Probably Skinny, the night mare. I like Skinny because he is in a lot of the book, and Garth cares a lot about him.
Jessica: Who would you recommend this book to?
Max: Well, I was eight when I finished it, but I was almost nine. So, I think you should be nine to read it. I think some younger kids might be bored of the romance.
Jessica: Did you know they are making a movie based on this book, starring Wolverine, I mean, Hugh Jackman, as Frank Gallows?
Max: No. I don’t think I should go see that movie. Because a lot of people I know said, if they make a movie off of a book, the book is better. And that was true for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Grinch who stole Christmas.
Mom’s take (with spoilers):
This is a pretty complex book, with several subplots, that do, as Max said, come together in the end. Garth meets his grandfather in Ghostopolis, who is estranged from his mother. Ghostopolis’s evil ruler actually dated Clair Voyant. And Frank’s boss has an unexpected secret that involves Vaugner as well. The illustrations, even of the humans, very compelling, but they are not pretty. Many different kinds of creatures populate Ghostopolis, as the image above shows, including skeletons, mummies, bugs, aliens, and fairies. I loved the drawings, and felt they told the story much better than the words, which were at times quite crude and clunky.
Looked at one way, this is a very “heavy” read, in terms of death, dying, and the afterlife. But there’s a lot of death and dying in super hero comics and films, too, and romance as well (Spiderman, for example), and it’s all pretty superficial. I would rather have those things treated with a little seriousness, as they are here, than glossed over. On the other hand, I was a little confused about the some aspects of the story, like whether everyone there once lived on earth, and whether Ghostopolis is a way station or a final destination, and for whom, and why.
The one genuinely moving aspect of the story, to me, was the quasi-religious one, which Max alluded to in the spoiler section above. It gives a glimpse of what benevolence really looks like. The god of Ghostopolis, Joe, is a black Tuskegee airman. I loved that.