Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review-Zits: Chillax

Any similarities between the character on the cover and the author of this blog are (hopefully) coincidence and (hopefully) unintentional

I was probably in grade six when my parents called me over to look at a comic strip. In it, a teenage boy was chained in a dungeon while a voice off-panel asked him how his day at school was. The next four or five panels featured something similar: An exercise in torture with a side of everyday questioning. The last panel showed the teenager looking physically spent, sitting at a table with his parents simply saying they weren't holding an inquisition. 

Since most of the questions from my parents concerning school and the like felt like that to me when I was that age-and to this day-I instantly knew that I had found something special. This was the comic strip Zits

Like any junkie, once I had something I enjoyed, I wanted more of it and wanted to immerse myself in it. I bought the collections of strips they released every year, cut out certain strips from the daily paper etc etc. Though for a while I was considering suing the creators Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman for stealing my physical appearance and using it for their own means. Come on, tall, white kid with a large nose and a near anorexic frame-who else would could they have modelled the main character, Jeremy, after?

However the strip was always a daily fixture of my newspaper reading back then and even today. Despite being ten years older than Jeremy is now, I still read it, buy the treasuries now and then and can't think of a time they failed to bring a smile to my face. 

Sometime last year, I was checking Amazon to see when the next collection would be out and found that there was a Zits novel in the works, titled Chillax. I left a comment on the comic's website and to my surprise got a reply from none other than Jerry Scott giving me a few details about the upcoming novel. And if the creator was willing to email me, then I think the least I can do is pick it up. Plus there's an endorsement from Stan Lee on the cover.

I really enjoyed this novel. Sure, I'm way older than the target audience for this but considering I was finishing Ian Fleming novels before high school, I think a little regression is fine once in a while. Jeremy and best friend Hector have scored tickets to their favourite rock group, Gingivitis. It also turns out that their friend Tim, who gave them the tickets, is also donating bone marrow to his cancer-stricken mother that same night-hence why he gave them the tickets.

The guys intend to go to the concert but also plan to get Tim a memorable souvenir. This proves to be much more difficult than originally thought and results in a very non-after-school-special roller coaster of ups and downs. Like me, it seems that Jeremy is a permanent student of the School of Hard Knocks.

I'm not going to say much more about the plot because...spoilers. First of all, the plot of the novels is actually recycled from previous strips but in it's defence, those storylines are over ten years old and totally separate from each other. Jeremy and Hector did go to Gingivitis concert in the daily strip, but there was nothing about Tim's mother related to it. Scott and Borgman took different storylines and wove them into something funny, charming and emotional.

So yeah, it's something done before passed off as something new but I'm not going to fault the book in any way for it. When you make something three or four panels into something over two hundred pages of written word, it's not going to be the smoothest transitions. Besides, when your main character stays the same age for over 20 years, you're bound to get worse continuity than the James Bond film series.

And yes, I do recognize all the sub-plots from previous strips without having to go back and look them up. I'm sure those of you reading this are having the following thought and if you are, I give you my most likely answer.

"Wait, you remember plots from a daily comic strip even if you haven't read it for many years?"

Me: "Uh...yeah, more or less. I mean, I can't recite them word for word but I pretty much get the gist of it."

"Oh. So what can you tell me about the Pythagorean theorem you were taught in high school math?"

"The Pytha...? Who do you think I am, Stephen Hawking?"

"No, it's just-"

"Oh, so you think I'm Data from Star Trek. I'm just an android who does billions of calculations per second with unlimited memory recall?"

"I don't know how you can't-"

"Look, that's very interesting but this has gone on long enough. I have to finish writing this review and I don't think I'll have to 'Solve for X' doing so."

To sum it up, bizarre memory happens to be my superpower. That and the inability to gain any weight.

I think the best part of the novel is Jeremy's narration. It's not too detailed and not too brief and the prose he uses in describing some of the everyday aspects of his life made me chuckle and green with envy-I want to write that well. 

Also the pictures by Jim Borgman are brilliant as always. I recall my Dad (Who could have been the model for Jeremy's father, Walt) laughing a few years ago about the noses in particular on most of the characters. The drawings are all new and original and help the story in terms of comedy. 

If you're a parent and want to pick up Chillax for your child, teen, tween (What are those, anyway?), I say do so. It's not too short, not too long and the dialogue, narration is something that any writer would like to be able to pull off. 

Oh, and since this is a book about teenagers, narrated by a teenager there is a bit of...colourful metaphors, shall we say. The words "wanker", "damn" "pissed" and various forms of the word "crap" are used but here's the thing: Your kid probably uses all these words already when you're not around. And if you think they don't, congratulations, you're clueless.

There is another book in the works and I look forward to reading it and giving it a review like this one.

EDIT: One final note; I think my favourite thing about this book was that it inspired me to write something in this blog that I cared about.

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