Posted by Don MacPherson on March 26th, 2009
Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Eric Wight
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Price: $9.99 US
Eric Wight is one of those artistic talents whose work is seen far too rarely in the industry. DC Comics readers have seen snippets of his art in recent years in such comics as Justice League of America #0 and Action Comics Annual #10, but his standout work has to be his original graphic novel, My Dead Girlfriend Vol. 1. It was a charming, entertaining and cute piece of work, and we were meant to see further episode. Sadly, publisher Tokyopop inexplicably put the kibosh on planned followups. Wight has since turned his attention to a new hero and premise, and it’s one he’s explored through a more traditional book publisher than comics publisher. While I describe this first Frankie Pickle as an original graphic novel, it’s really a blend of prose for kids and some comics work. The shifts between media in this one volume actually work quite well, given the context. The Closet of Doom is cute, just like Wight’s My Dead Girlfriend, but I wouldn’t describe this latest effort as an all-ages book. This is definitely better suited for kids rather than adults, as there’s really no surprises for the grown-up crowd to be found here. Still, there should be a strong market for this material, and I hope it catches on and finds a wide, mass audience.
Franklin Piccolini is in many ways a typical kid. He loves his family (even his older and younger sisters). He loves to read his comics and play with his toys. He also has a vivid imagination, transforming even the most routine of experiences into the latest adventure of stalwart hero Frankie Pickle! Like a lot of young boys, Frankie hates to clean up his room. His mother, seeing an opportunity to teach him a lesson, lifts any requirement for him to clean his room ever again, as long as he handles any consequences alone. At first, it seems like a dream come true, but Frankie soon finds that his seeming freedom and his own possessions turn against him.
Wight’s designs for these character exhibit the influence of several cartoons, but given his background as an animation artist, that should come as no surprise. There’s a wide-eyed, Pixar-like energy and enthusiasm in the characters, and the title character seems to show just a hint of Jonny Quest’s dashing look. His characters’ enlarged heads and huge eyes make for cute, attractive figures, and the sharp angles making up the rest of Frankie’s form adds a lot of energy to the storytelling.
Wight uses the comics form to bring Frankie Pickle’s imaginary adventures to life, while the scenes set in the “real world” are presented as illustrated prose. The shifts from one mode to the mode aren’t jarring at all as a result. The Closet of Doom might actually serve as a nice bridge between traditional children’s books and comics.
Now, this isn’t the longest and densest book, but it’s cute, light reading. It rings in at 96 pages, but the total count of story pages is actually just a little bit lower than that. That’s what makes the $12.99 US list price (as noted on the Simon & Schuster website) a bit perplexing. I think the publisher could move a lot of these if they were at a more accessible price point. (Addendum: Creator Eric Wight has chimed in to note that the price has been dropped to $9.99 US, which is the sort of more accessible price point I’d been hoping for). Mind you, it’s clear Simon & Schuster has big hopes for Frankie Pickle. This is apparently the first in a planned series.
Anyone who enjoyed the “Spaceman Spiff” premise that popped up from time to time in Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes comic strip will enjoy what Wight does here with Frankie Pickle. Anyone who lost themselves in his or her imagination during childhood will be able to easily identify with Frankie Pickle, and Wight makes the most of that innocent sense of wonder. Still, the point here isn’t for adults to see themselves in the title character, but rather for kids to discover the magic of that imagination and to learn a particular moral. While adult fans of Wight’s work (such as myself) have been eagerly anticipating more work from him, this book’s definitely for the kids, as grown-up will easily see where Wight’s headed with the plot early on. Of course, that this book is for kids is good news in and of itself, as Frankie Pickle should serve as an excellent gateway into the world of comics for today’s tykes. 7/10
Note: This book is slated for release in May.