I want to begin this post by welcoming our newest writer, Michael May, to Good Comics for Kids. You may have noticed Michael popping up in our roundtables; he has been eager to begin contributing to the blog, and because our host, SLJ, is still working on moving everything over to the new platform, he will be posting on my account for a while. I’m including his chibi here so you can get an idea of what he looks like.
Billy Fog and the Gift of Trouble Sight
By Guillaume Bianco
When my son was about seven or eight, he lost his grandmother, to whom he was especially close, as well as some other distant relatives. There were lots of funerals, and it was tough watching him process death. He had questions about what would happen if his mom and I died, or what would happen if he died. It was heartbreaking. People so close to the beginning of life shouldn’t have to think that hard about the end of it. But, of course, we do. And that’s what Billy Fog is going through in Guillaume Bianco’s graphic novel/miscellany.
It’s not apparent right away. At first look, Bianco’s book is a collection of short comics, illustrated poems, encyclopedia entries, and newspaper clippings. It’s possible to flip through it and be entertained by whatever random page turns up. In fact – except for the first few and last pages – every page in the book is numbered 13, reinforcing the notion that reading order isn’t all that important.
It is though. Reading Billy Fog from cover to cover, it becomes obvious that Bianco is telling a real story. And a terrifyingly tragic one.
Young Billy Fog is introduced in a comics sequence as one of those trouble-making kids that children’s literature is so fond of. He loves miserable weather and tormenting his little sister Jeannie. He cuts the heads off her dolls, calls her mean names, and generally makes Sid from Toy Story look like Boo from Monsters, Inc. When his equally tortured cat dies, Billy’s first reaction is to feel cheated. “I thought I’d get to watch him turn into a skeleton!” he huffs. “Stupid.”
But as the book progresses, it becomes clear that Billy’s been more affected than he lets on. He writes a letter to Santa asking for the truth about death. He thinks more and more about dead creatures and dead people, asking questions that no one has answers to. That’s where the poetry and encyclopedia entries come in. Billy’s story keeps getting interrupted with a poem about The Little Knife Girl, information about vampires and nightmares, or newspaper articles on the proper use of a ouija board. They’re amusing—I especially like how Billy uses his odd creatures to explain why spinach is nasty and why you should not cover your mouth when you sneeze – but they become increasingly chilling as the death-theme begins to take shape. Billy is obsessed.
What’s also scary is the cloud of dread that forms around Billy’s sister. Billy admits to Santa that he loves Jeannie, but he’s no more capable of taking care of her than he was of his cat. Younger children likely won’t realize that they should be afraid for Jeannie’s life, but older kids and adults begin to worry, not just for Jeannie, but for what will happen to Billy if she dies.
Like all great children’s books, Billy Fog and the Gift of Trouble Sight works on multiple levels. It’s clever and funny and can be enjoyed simply for the creepy art, Billy’s strange imagination, and his even odder adventures. But it’s also a story about dealing with the idea of death. For children who are working through that, Billy Fog is a thoughtful and engaging—if irreverent—guide.
Michael May has been writing about comics for a little over a decade. He started as a reviewer for the defunct Comic World News website and went on to edit it for a while before joining The Great Curve, a comics blog that eventually became Blog@Newsarama and finally Comic Book Resources’ Robot 6. In addition to loving comics, he also loves his ten year old son and enjoys nothing more than finding (and writing about) awesome comics for the boy to read.