By Aaron Renier
184 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions
The old adage of “You can’t judge a book by its cover” isn’t always 100% true. Covers can absolutely be misleading, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, though, you look at a cover and you just feel like you know everything about the book. For me, that was definitely the case with Aaron Renier’s debut graphic novel Spiral-Bound (Top Secret Summer); seeing a humanoid elephant, dog, and rabbit falling into a sketched monster’s jaws, I just knew that this was going to be an inventive and exciting book, and that’s exactly what I got.
Summer isn’t looking terribly appealing to Turnip the Elephant, with just another series of lonely days ahead. Then he becomes friends with Stucky Hound and starts going to art camp, and everything changes. Not only is he learning how to sculpt with the help of Ms. Skrimshaw, but he’s finding himself entangled in the mystery of the abandoned lake. Is there really a monster in its depths? What is the underground newspaper The Scoop stirring up? And what about the upcoming art show?
It’s been a long while since I’ve been so excited by a book the way Spiral-Bound made me feel. I think it’s in part because, just like The Scoop‘s intricate maze of underground passages beneath the town, Spiral-Bound has so many ideas and emotions waiting for the reader to discover, just lurking inside its pages. At first Spiral-Bound seems like a simple story about going to art camp and gaining self-confidence, but there’s so much more. Secret organizations, lingering feelings of betrayal, lynch mobs… it sounds a bit cliché but every time I thought I knew everything that was going on, something new would be revealed.
I think one of the things that impressed me the most is that Spiral-Bound isn’t just one character’s story. Turnip and Ana have their own stories, ones that keep intersecting throughout the book. They each have their own goals and ideas, and as their paths cross each affects the others in ways they wouldn’t expect. At the same time, though, the supporting cast still gets their time in the spotlight. Stucky Hound’s quest to build his submarine, for instance, or Ms. Skrimshaw’s and Turnip’s father’s feelings about their long-banished mentor Professor Calamari are all integral parts of Spiral-Bound, and Renier makes sure to give them their own fair amount of attention. By the time you’re doing reading Spiral-Bound, you’ll know these characters so well that you’re desperate to see them again.
Renier has a beautiful art style. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a lot of comparisons between Spiral-Bound and Good-Bye, Chunky Rice‘s art; like Thompson’s art in his debut book, Renier uses a solid, graceful ink line to create his characters. Seeing things like Ms. Skrimshaw’s mobile sphere of water, or Emily the bird with her camera around her neck, and it’s hard to keep a grin from coming across your face. They just look great, and instantly inviting to want to see more of them. Renier’s also great at creating gorgeous visuals for the setting of Spiral-Bound. Looking at images like the barren trees in the condemned park, for instance, or the roller-coaster inspired secret monorail with its crazy jumps and twists, and you can’t help but feel excitement, or nervousness, or whatever else Renier is aiming for on that page. Renier uses the backgrounds to help set the scene not only visually but emotionally, and it works wonderfully.
This is the time of year when comic publishers inundate the market with new books, and it’s very much to Top Shelf and Renier’s credit that Spiral-Bound is not only one of the few that made me think, “I must read this” but also had me entranced from start to finish. This is an inventive tour-de-force, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what Renier will do next. Buy this book, buy this book, buy this book.