10.07.2010

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Billy Hazelnuts & The Crazy Bird (Fantagraphics): By the time this book opens and an interim period has elapsed from the first volume, we see Billy domesticated and responsible for household chores on the farm due to his incredible strength. As was the case in the first volume, the world of Billy Hazelnuts seems to be about breaking free of physical or even socially imposed ideological bonds. An early favorite sequence involves Billy’s conflict with the family cat, which he describes as a “filthy milk-licker.” The additional line “…one animal licking the juice of another” hints at the subversive and subtle sexuality that Tony Millionaire is able to infuse the work with. The clash with the cat seems to come full circle later in the book, which captures the balance Millionaire is able to achieve with the raucous and more endearing moments. When the cat and an owl fight, there’s lots of furious character to the action. As bold wise-ass Billy breaks up the fight, he quips “I do loathe that cat… but it’s our cat!” Billy saves him, and the cat later returns the favor. Though it’s superficially an outlandish portrayal of events, we see the theme of a familial bond transcending and trumping most conflicts. It happens again when Billy decides to return the baby owl to its mother. Billy is something of a wise ass homunculi, but he does have a heart. Millionaire’s syrupy inks, along with his highly detailed, but thick expressive lines underscore that idea; his art comes equipped with an emotional weight that compliments his line weight. I enjoyed Becky’s continued presence, who is just as spunky as before. In her consistent characterization, she offers lines here like “Cool your jets, fireball!” which sum up the demeanor of her character pretty well. Millionaire seems to be fascinated by the ideas of creation and deconstruction, Becky frequently points out that it was the animals who made Billy Hazelnuts. Notice how the birds deal with their hunger, they eat part of the house and parts of Billy, everything in the narrative is able to be repurposed as a consumptive building block for a new act of creation. Rupert Punch is a fun new character, who acts as a sort of eccentric advisor to Billy. He’s got a unique way with language, chatting about escaping his “marzipan period,” or how the bird hat is “the vogue slavery in the haberdashery circles.” Millionaire’s world is full of great inventions and fun ideas just for the sake of themselves; the enjoyable style pervades the book. Along the way, the thematic notes of loyalty, maturing to a sense of responsibility, and rebirth run their course. Billy feels a sense of responsibility to the owl, to Becky, and Billy’s apparent demise symbolizes the rebirth that these creatures are capable of, all with a sense of craft and surprise. The first volume of Billy Hazelnuts possessed more of a sense of dreamy adventure. The inclusion of the moon and planets seemed to harken back to seminal strips like Little Nemo in Slumberland or something more modern like The Clouds Above by Jordan Crane. Billy Hazelnuts & The Crazy Bird is a little more grounded, a little more “earthy” as opposed to “airy” if you’ll permit me an elemental analogy. In either case, this developing corner of the Tony Millionaire library possesses all the immersive wonderment of a modern fairy tale. Grade A.

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