EBOOK REVIEW: GHOSTBOY AND THE LITTLE GHOST GIRL / AUTHOR: JASON JAMES / ARTIST: JASON JAMES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
First, a word of warning, though the pictures are cutely Tim Burton gothic there is a quality in Ghostboy and The Little Ghost Girl which makes it come across as being written by a convinced believer in the supernatural (whether or not the sole author and artist Jason James is actually an earnest believer, we don’t have the evidence to say). If you have even a trace of Dawkins in you there is a real danger you may explode at its earnestness, so please, materialists and rationalists, handle with care. However, for this particular writer, this earnest approach is one of Ghostboy’s big saving graces.
So let’s get to the story. The Ghostboy of the title is just a regular little boy, Tristan, who lives with his Mum in a spooky looking gothic mansion, although he spends most of his time in a caravan (lucky blighter for an 11 year old). Tristan is very much Tim Burton-esque, his birthday is close to Halloween, he has mad spiky black hair and enormous, doleful eyes, all beautifully captured by James’ scratchy, pencil and ink, black and white-style artwork.
On the night of his birthday, Tristan is visited by the ghost of a little girl (we’re still not sure where she fits on the cute/disturbing spectrum, although she is drawn with both qualities) who keeps visiting wordlessly until Tristan engages in some serious research to learn more about her.
Aided by a mysterious librarian (who Tristan likes because she smells or paper and books, apparently), Tristan’s hip best friend, and an outsider from school with supernatural powers of perception, Ghostboy goes about helping the ghost girl, even when threatened by what may or may not be the cursed spirit of a witch-hunting general (who looks curiously like Vincent Price…). The story is very much aimed at children but does get darker as it goes, and it’s here where the earnestness may seem troubling to some – is this really how the spirit world works?
The illustrations are very comic book gothic but Ghostboy is essentially a picture book rather than a graphic novel, with the illustrations peppering the words rather than vice versa. Frustratingly, the pictures are by far the better half of this book, the prose often being somewhat clumsy and awkward, and you almost wish less words were used and more of the story told by James’ lush, scratchy pictures. The gothic mood is perfectly captured by the art but the aim of creating a Buffy-ish US high school atmosphere in the text is slightly undermined by a more British idiom that seems to slip through unintentionally.
All in all, it’s an uneven but a well-meaning and (have I already mentioned this?) earnest effort and ends on a cliffhanger and promise of adventures to come that give hope that the energy put into character establishment in this first book will be free to be fully invested into story development in books to come. All we would recommend to Jason James for future books is to talk with his art as much as he can, it’s by far his strongest suit and, with weird camera angles and great little details, something for a reader to take real pleasure in.
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