Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

I grew up in a family of five like the protagonist, D.J.'s, with constant chaos in the kitchen as everyone hovered around the fridge trying to snarf down whatever morsels were available. We ate so much that my mom stored 16 boxes of cereal in the stove one day because they couldn't fit in the cupboard. I preheated the oven for my pan of brownies and lighted a boo-scary bonfire. Smores were more in order than brownies. Judd Winick captures not only big-family life, but the difficulty of trying to find yourself when you have no outstanding qualities in a household of talented siblings. D.J. doesn't know it, but he has plenty of character - good character - and this is oftentimes more important than talents. Not until Gina moves back and the superhero alien, Hilo, crash lands into D.J.'s life does he start to accept who he is inside.

As D.J.'s family is grabbing food in the kitchen, they become suspicious of his new friend, Hilo, especially when Hilo starts eating a napkin. The quick-thinking D.J. distracts everyone by revealing his older brother has a girlfriend. Yes! It is always fun to draw parental attention to the older sibling as they are usually the one getting the more unsophisticated younger sibling in trouble. Can you tell I was low on the totem pole like D.J.? Don't read this book while scooping spoonfuls of cereal into your mouth. Superhero Hilo will have you snort-laughing milk through your nose.

Like I said before, ten-year-old D.J. believes he is not good at anything in his family of five siblings where everyone else is spectacular at something. He was good at being a friend to Gina but she moved away. Hilo (pronounced high-low) missiles from the sky to earth making a crater where he is discovered by D.J. in only a pair of silver underwear. D.J. befriends Hilo whose "memory is like a busted book" and takes him home to give him some clothes. Hilo is pretty clueless about how to dress and greet people, but has a golly-gee attitude that makes him never become negative whether he is facing robot insects destroying Earth or being smashed into the ground like a cartoon character in Looney Tunes.

Running gags and great pacing add to the nonstop humor. While this story is different in plot and characterization, it reminds me a bit of "Timmy Failure" and "Monster on the Hill" although Timmy is a complete dork and Monster on the Hill has a boy trying to help a monster find his scary side so the town will be proud of him. Timmy is a dumb cluck, the monster story is full of irony, and this one brims with a spunky superhero that is endearingly weird. What they all have in common is they will make you laugh, laugh, laugh and the illustrations are terrific. Judd Winick, who is well known for his successful superhero adult comics, says that he read Jeff Smith's Bone series with his son and decided to create a comic for the younger fare. As Hilo would say, "Outstanding!"

When D.J. first meets Hilo he screams, "Aaah!" to which Hilo says, "Is that a greeting? I like it! Aaah!" Everytime he meets anyone Hilo yells, "Aaah!" Hilo keeps scaring D.J. in different situations but thinks his "Aaah's" are hellos making me laugh every time. When he meets Gina who has returned after three years Hilo greets her with a, "Aaah!" When he meets D.J.'s classmates he says "Aaah!" followed by his gee-shucks, "I love that greeting," to the annoyed teacher's face who wonders who this smart-aleck is in front of the class. Meanwhile D.J. is sitting at his desk covering his face in embarrassment. When Hilo burps for the first time he thinks it is the coolest thing. When he burps a second time he and D.J. laugh hysterically like typical kids. D.J. says, "Repeat business," to which they laugh so hard they are holding their stomachs and stomping their feet. The burping continues periodically in the story to which Gina at one point comments, "Why do boys always laugh at burping?"

Hilo thinks everything is "outstanding" and Gina, D.J. and Hilo like the word, "Holy Mackerel!" When Hilo sees a robot monster he says, "Octoped! So wanted to use that word in a sentence today and Boom! Octoped!" Later he is shoving a giant foot in a club house where he cheerfully says, "This is great! And not just because it perfectly fits a giant metal foot and smells like squirrel poop. It's cause it's overrun with a ton of spiders." D.J. knows immediately what Hilo means and turns to Gina, "Octopeds." With a fist pump in the air, Hilo exuberantly shouts:"Octopeds! Hello, my eight-legged brothers!" Repeating words can sometimes get annoying but the author handles the comedic elements with aplomb.

The humor is balanced with D.J. learning that he is not a boring person but a brave and loyal friend. Even when Gina moves back to town he feels inferior to her as she's been in many sports and is good in science. He doesn't see his worth or value until Gina points out how he didn't hesitate tossing a robot off a cliff, jumping into a deep hole after Hilo, and fighting a Robo-bug with a stick. He doesn't seem to get it that having a superhero for a best friend is the exact opposite of boring. Although Gina makes it clear that she didn't think he was boring before Hilo. And D.J. isn't the only one sorting out issues. Hilo ran away from his problems and realizes that he has to face them.

The illustrations remind me of Calvin and Hobbes, particularly the facial expressions. While Winick's characters have more details and color than Calvin and Hobbes, Winick's faces look a lot like Calvin's when things go wrong and the characters' eyes engulf their head and pupils instead of showing up in a normally pupil-less face. D.J.'s stand-up hair looks like a bolt of lightning went through him as he watches Hilo do crazy things such as drop a raccoon in the school office. It adds to his facial expressions and creates energy with the angles. The adults are panicked with bug-eyes and big mouths in their shock of having a furry animal show up out of nowhere. The man with the pail on his head, broom in hand and leg up in the air looks like he's trying to dance out of the way of the raccoon. The staffer crouched behind the counter looks like she's trying to hide behind a paper clutched in her hands and a grimace on her face while a bald man is running in the opposite direction with a screaming mouth. Winick packs a punch in each frame and they are a delight to study. This cliffhanger ending will have you buzzing for book two. Don't miss it.

5 Smileys

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