“I know you’re busy haunting the mall, but we’re out of stuff to do.”
Aimed more at the MG audience but closing in on YA, this autumn-appropriate graphic novel tells the tale of a young Goblin witch, her undead, increasingly distant best friend, and the Blob Ghost that haunts the mall in a suburb of some Halloween-themed universe.
Title: Beetle & the Hollowbones
Writer and Artist: Aliza Layne
Colorists: Natalie Riess, Kristen Acampora
First published: September 2020.
Beetle, living in the shadows of her Town Witch grandmother and her increasingly successful, elite-schooled best friend, meets Blob Ghost, a strange creature who haunts the mall and may be the key to unravelling certain mysteries.
However, the mall will soon be demolished, and Blob Ghost, tethered to the place it haunts, faces an uncertain fate. It seems even a ghost can die.
Layne’s artwork captures the everyday craziness of her setting, aided by the contrast of dark shadows and popping colours. She includes a number of amusing details that illustrate the para-normality of Beetle’s home town. The beleaguered jack-o-lantern-headed clerk of “Bell Books and Candles” gets led on a whimsical chase, and is left casually vacuuming ectoplasmic residue.
I am particularly impressed by her ability to convey expression and character with simplified, cartoon faces. Blob Ghost looks like coloured gelatin, but Layne draws a bewilderingly expressive piece of coloured gelatin. The gothic houses, meanwhile, seem to grow organically from their surroundings.
The final epilogue, “Penny,” feels like it belongs in the next graphic novel. The story already concluded, and this feels neither like part of this story nor a self-contained bonus feature.
Originality: 3/6 Supernatural characters encounter the same problems as the readers for whom they stand in, amplified. These include significant extrapolations– the adult figure interfering with the children’s friendship proves an outright supernatural villain with fearsome powers and diabolical aims. Others remain mundane: Kat Hollowbone’s guardian does not want her to wear her “childish” animal ears anymore. Despite their supernatural setting and fantastic personal abilities, these characters share their audience’s interests: they read Manga and write fanfic, for example. It’s a fun world which probably doesn’t bear too much scrutiny, and you will find yourself comparing the book to things you’ve encountered before.
Artwork: 6/6 See “High Points.”
Story: 4/6 The story has a solid start and engaging characters. It goes a little off-kilter as it heads for a magical showdown that mostly consists of beautifully-drawn spells with seemingly arbitrary effects.
Characterization: 5/6 The art and writing communicates character effectively. The protagonist’s relationship with her grandmother feels believable, while her emerging LGBTQ identity gets treated as a matter of fact, important to her but never the focus of the story.
Emotional response: 4/6
Overall: 5/6 I grant I am very much not the audience for this work, but I have often enjoyed YA and even ME material, taken on their own terms. I found this one passably entertaining, but I suspect it will appeal mainly, if not almost exclusively, to its intended audience. That isn’t so much a criticism as a recommendation.
In total, Beetle and the Hollowbones receives 32/42