Written and illustrated by Doug TenNapel
$24.99, ages 10 and up, 272 pages
A dying boy is sent into the afterlife too soon and unless he can outwit a ruler who's corrupted the underworld city of Ghostopolis and find a ghost trafficker, he may not get back to Earth.
In this crazy-fun graphic novel, a boy with an incurable disease named Garth Hale is accidentally zapped into the underworld and goes in search of a Tuskagee airman who may know how to get him home.
The problem is, an evil mortal named Vaugner has taken over Ghostopolis from Airman Joe, who created the city so ghosts would have a place to live, and now Vaugner wants to destroy Garth, the only other living being there.
Vaugner believes Garth could threaten his reign because humans can harness supernatural powers in the underworld with their imagination. (Soon after arriving, Garth discovers he can fly and whip electrical balls at bad guys.)
As the tale opens, Garth is living alone with his mother and, though aware that his life is fleeting, he dreams of learning to fly a plane one day like his late grandpa, who became estranged from Garth's mother when she was a teen.
Then one day while reading in bed, Garth's life among the living is unexpectedly shortened by a night "mare."
A dead horse has snuck back to Earth from Ghostopolis and jumped through Garth's bedroom wall on top of him. Just as a ghost wrangler hits the send button on a machine that jettisons ghosts back to the hereafter, Garth and the mare evaporate in a puff of ions.
The wrangler, Frank Gallows, finds himself in in hot water for botching up the deportation. Though he never knew Garth was stuck in the mare's ribcage when he hit send, his boss at Supernatural Immigration is livid and fires him."You hit the send button without having a visual of your entire subject?" he yells credulously.
Now that's he's cut from the agency's immigration task force, Frank no longer has access to its top-secret plasma flying machine to go look for Garth in the afterlife. However, he refuses to give up and quickly asks his ex-fiance, Claire Voyant, a techno wizard, for help.
Claire, who doesn't quite fit in on Earth, is still bitter over their breakup, but agrees to let Frank ride with her in her Plasmapod, a red buggy with four fat wheels and wings, into Ghostopolis to try to extract Garth.
Meanwhile, back in the underworld, Garth comes tumbling out of the horse's ribcage into a strangely fertile field. Right away the skeletal horse takes a liking to Garth, though Garth wants nothing to do with him.
"I'm not gonna pet you, so knock it off," he tells the mare, as it nudges him and blows hot air on his face through its nostrils. "You kidnapped me after all. That makes you the bad guy."
But Garth can't resist the mare's hollow puppy-dog eyes. He pats the horse on the snout and decides that he'll call it, "Skinny," since it's all bones, and together they snuggle up on the ground as two moons rise in the night sky.
Come morning, the mare starts acting strangely. It pounces down on its bony forelegs, trying to get Garth to climb on, when suddenly a wild herd of skeletal dinosaurs rip over the hillside, nearly trampling them.
The two barely escape, and as they head toward a town in the distance, they hear a gang of rabid bugs on three-wheelers charge over the ridge.
Suddenly a boy in an aviator hat appears and yells to Garth to hide behind a tree, just in time to evade the infestation.
The boy turns out to be Garth's dead grandpa, who has been sent to the afterlife to relive the age he feels inside (an immature one) so he can make amends for mistakes he made while he was alive.
Grandpa tells Garth he's too alive to be in the underworld and leads him into Ghostopolis in search of Joe. Since Joe made the underworld, Grandpa reasons, He should now how to get Garth out of it.
Joe is a mysterious fellow. Though most never see Him, his grandpa explains, they know Him by what He's done (hint. hint.)
By the next few pages, the pace picks up as Grandpa begins to grow up, Frank and Claire arrive in the Plasmapod in search of Garth and Vaugner hears of Garth's arrival from his evil lackey, a grotesque bug.
Frank and Claire, who've been to the afterlife before, are shocked by the deterioration of the underworld since Vaugner took over. "No wonder ghosts are always sneaking back to Earth," Frank says.
When Frank and Claire meet up with Garth, a hilarious adventure ensues, as Vaugner sends giant bugs on flying bee-copters to hunt down Garth and the four race through the bug-ridden Ghostopolis to find Joe.
Along the way, Grandpa gets lost, and Frank and Claire lose their plasma copter, and, together with Garth, are taken hostage by a Bone King. The king, however, is not what he seems and leads them into a mountain of bat dung in search of Joe.
But Joe tells Garth he cannot leave the underworld the way that ghosts do and tells Garth to look deep inside himself for answers. But with Vaugner and his bugs closing in, how will Garth ever find his way back to Earth in time?
TenNapel's story is absolutely hilarious. I loved every minute and both of my older boys, aged 8 and 12, gobbled it up, the youngest proclaiming it to be his favorite new book.
The book is an astounding feat of illustrations and is packed with so many hysterical details that even adults will chuckle.
One of my favorites is when the ghost of Benedict Arnold pops up and can't decide whether to tell on characters or be a good guy.
There are also amusing encounters with passersby and street vendors. As Garth arrives in Ghostopolis with his grandpa, he's famished and must decide between eating a fried tarantula on a stick or mummified elephant poop.
One of the most clever vignettes is when a mummy father scoops up his mummy son from a city street as bugs entrap Garth and whispers to him to look the other way in a classic example of bystanders not wanting to get involved.
A riot from start to finish, Ghostopolis is a fast read that I dare any boy age 8 and up to resist.