Idiosyncratic, Dimension-Hopping 'Skip' Creates Its Own Niche
Sometimes a book deserves attention not for what it is, but for what it isn't. Molly Mendoza's graphic novel Skip isn't a lot of things. It isn't typical of any of the genres that dominate comics today, for one thing: It's not an action-packed serial adventure, a revealing memoir or an arty exploration of formal principles. It also isn't a book that will immediately attract grown-up readers, and yet it probably won't win a wide following in the under-18 set. The youngest readers may not have the patience to soak up the full impact of Mendoza's gorgeous pages (or even understand what's happening on all of them), while older ones will probably be turned off by a lead character named "Gloopy." All in all, Skipis a polyhedron-shaped peg in a world of round holes.
The book is about two youngsters who, for no clear reason, are sucked out of their separate worlds and find themselves traveling together across numerous different dimensions. Though it can count Where the Wild Things Are and The Phantom Tollbooth among its progenitors, it doesn't really resemble either. The adventures Mendoza crafts for her characters are much less coherent than those of Maurice Sendak's Max or Norton Juster's Milo. There's no impetus for her characters' journey, and the different dimensions they visit aren't very well-fleshed-out or distinct from one another. In fact, Skipisn't a travelogue — it's a trip. The point isn't to vicariously explore imaginary worlds, but simply to let your eye float along the stream of fantastical visions Mendoza spins out.
It's not too much of a defect, then, that there isn't much here by way of story. The main characters are a boy named Bloom and the aforementioned Gloopy, who's from a dimension that doesn't have gender. Gloopy's world is divertingly odd, when it's not cutesy. There's a mushroom king and a creature with glasses who looks a bit too Disney — elements that, sadly, will probably alienate many tween-and-up readers before the book gets going. Almost immediately, Gloopy and Bloom are pulled away from their homes and propelled through a dizzying succession of worlds. They shrink down to the size of mice on an urban sidewalk, inhabit the paintings in a museum, meet a pizza-eating dinosaur and even become two-dimensional for a while. And yet, when you put the book down, it's hard to remember the details of any of the places they visited.
That's not the only reason Skip isn't really a book for kids. While Bloom and Gloopy are themselves kids, grappling with the usual questions arising in this kind of story — how to get back home, and whether they should want to go back at all — those issues never feel novel or pressing. Her narrative drifts along like a raft on a tide, only with even less sense of time passing. Sometimes she seems to turn inward, meditating on her own role as artist rather than trying say anything meaningful to her reader.
Even when it's hard to tell what's going on, it doesn't matter. Mendoza's paintings guide and shape the reader's responses without limiting them.
All this would be just unbearable if not for Mendoza's glorious, seething, trippy — definitely trippy — art. Skipis one big kaleidoscopic frenzy. Ever-changing patterns and hues slosh from page to page like a warm, weird bath. Mendoza is remarkable for her near-total indifference to line. Like Tommi Parrish and Manuele Fior — and unlike most people creating comics today — she expresses herself almost exclusively through shape, color and texture. With all her swooshy brushstrokes, the book billows with inchoate emotion. Even when it's hard to tell what's going on, it doesn't matter. Mendoza's paintings guide and shape the reader's responses without limiting them.
It's this uncanny effect, and the creative assurance of its author, that make Skip intriguing in spite of its flaws. Mendoza's art is fascinating even when her thin story isn't. Maybe Skip isn't exactly a book for kids — or for many adults either. Hopefully, though, it will win some over anyway. A creation this idiosyncratic deserves to find a niche — or, perhaps, to make one.
Etelka Lehoczky has written about books for The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Review of Books and The New York Times. Shetweets at @EtelkaL.
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