The Dumbest Idea Ever
By Jimmy Gownley
Everyone knows where comic books come from—comic book creators make them, publishers sell them and comic book stores sell them (Or libraries let you borrow them.) But where do comic book creators come from? Jimmy Gownley’s new autobiographic graphic novel The Dumbest Idea Ever explains where at least one comic book creator came from: Jimmy Gownley, the creator of the Amelia Rules series.
Gownley actually decided what he wanted to do with his life and started pursuing that dream at an extremely young age, drawing and self-publishing his first comic while still in high school in his small town of Girardville, Pennsylvania, and this story is therefore a sort of beginning-to-come-of-age story involving a teenager.
An extremely promising junior high student with straight 99% A’s (his Catholic school teacher refuses to give him 100s, on the grounds that only God is perfect), a knack for basketball and early romantic success with the girl he likes, young Jimmy seems to have everything going for him.
Jimmy finds something he’s not that good at when he decides to start drawing comics in high school, and his first work is a derivative Star Wars/Lord of the Rings mash-up called Star Lord (presumably no relation to the then-quite obscure Marvel character, although young Jimmy did seem to enjoy the Marvel cosmic comic Adam Warlock). His new friend Tony Graziano reluctantly tells Jimmy he doesn’t like at all. Instead, he suggests Jimmy draw a comic book about them, to which an incredulous Jimmy responds by shouting the title of this book at Tony.
But actually, what he comes up with is quickly embraced by pretty much everyone, from his very supportive parents, who fund the self-publishing, to his teachers and classmates, who celebrate and patronize him, to the local paper and TV station, who cover him. Jimmy’s head starts to swell—quite literally on one page, as Gownley draws his teenage comic book avatar’s head getting bigger and bigger in one scene—until a trip to New York City brings him face to face with the real artists whose immortal paintings are hanging on the walls of the museums, and he realize his newfound celebrity probably has at least much to do with the small pond he was born in as it does with his own talent.
In 230 breezy pages, Gownley races through various rites of passage of every small town American adolescent—having a best friend move away, chicken pox, McDonalds-and-movies “dates,” starting high school, prom, first break-up—and those of every modern cartoonist—visiting a comic shop for the first time, finding a printer, smelling your freshly-printed new comic, selling your first book, etc.
His artwork here will be familiar to Amelia Rules readers; those new to his work will find it open and expressive, more akin to the best in today’s newspaper comic strips than that of many modern comic books, sort of like a novel-length Sunday page. Gownley takes advantage of the medium to rather frequently slide into fantasy sequences, exaggerating a class presentation, arguing with the Grim Reaper and/or the little devil and angel versions of Jimmy that appear on his shoulders, and so on.
It’s an affecting story for adult readers, but it should prove even more compelling to young comic fans who want to grow up to be comics creators themselves. Embedded within the art are images of Gownley’s high school comic—Shades of Gray— which shows the incredible growth of Gownley’s skills, in a pretty simple contrast of what the grown-up Gownley-drawn teen Gownley was drawing so long ago. In fact, the book’s existence is itself a sort of argument for young people to continue to pursue their dreams of making comics (or whatever those dreams might be, I suppose) despite moments of doubt or difficult setbacks, given that Jimmy’s rather humble beginnings eventually lead to this accomplished story about those humble beginnings.