James Kochalka is a master of cute alternative comix. In fact, he even wrote a book called The Cute Manifesto. But he also uses his deceptively sweet style to tackle everything from autobiography to surreal fantasy to raunchy adults-only superhero parodies. But how about a nice, normal children's illustrated book?
Well, when it's Kochalka doing the drawing, "normal" might be a bit of a stretch. But it's no leap to say his new Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost In The World! cartoon book is a joy for readers young and old alike. Short but sweet, it's a great read for kids but will also amuse parents tired of the usual bland Disney and Bob the Builder tales.
Johnny Boo is the tale of a Casper-like little fellow and his own "pet ghost," Squiggle, who during a romp in the forest have a goose pimple-inducing encounter with an Ice Cream Monster. Although Boo only clocks in at about 40 pages, Kochalka manages to hit many of the familiar obsessions of his work – cuteness, adventure, goofy heroics ("Boo Power," indeed!), and a charmingly childlike sense of invention.
Kochalka's work will speak to kids because his surreal invention is so much like a child's own imagination. While he often uses his more adult work to subvert some of the elements of children's cartoons, here he embraces them, with his brightly colored characters and goofy play. There's nothing much deep to Johnny Boo, but that's not to say it doesn't have plenty to spark a kid's imagination.
I wouldn't say Johnny Boo ranks with the pinnacles of Kochalka's prolific output – his ongoing daily diary strip, "American Elf,” combines all his skills to create his masterwork – but it's a wonderfully silly little romp and well worth reading to the kid in your life. It passed the 4-year-old test in my household with flying colors.