This must be the funniest book I’ve read all year. Doug TenNapel is no newbie to making people chuckle though. This is the guy that created the video game Earthworm Jim back in the 90s after all. Since then he’s been fairly prolific as a creator of unique OGNs such as Creature Tech and Monster Zoo, as well as dabbling in film, TV and music.
His broad, sketchy style is immediately recognisable but his true skill lies in his perfection of timing. It’s always more difficult to make comics as funny as a cartoon or anything live action. Obviously, there’s no motion or sound effects to assist in the bringing forth of chortles. TenNapel’s not bothered by that however. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Power Up is a 126 page black and white adventure from Image focused on Hugh Randolph. He’s just a normal guy, with an encouraging wife, a son who wants to be a professional paintballer and a cat who has the propensity to sit on his face. He works at Kopyko’s for a thankless boss, who soon “promotes” him in order to fire the elderly Mr. Wembly, and his attempt at doing so is one of the book’s most amusing scenes. Together with his co-worker, the somewhat dim Doyle, he dreams of working for Electronic Artisans on their new game, Earth Dog Jim. Yes, gamers will easily spot those references. His Eastern European boss isn’t too pleased with this distraction, or as he puts it, “No monkey around with the tetris-pong mario! You keep mind on work!”
One fateful trip home Hugh discovers an old gaming console on a front lawn, products of a deceased inventor, now being sold by his widow. Hugh snaps them up and tries to entertain his son with them, but he’s unimpressed by the game’s 8 bit graphcis and apparent lack of gameplay. After some perseverance however, Hugh discovers what the game is truly capable of. Hilarity ensues. Really. Thanks to a secret button on the hefty joystick, Hugh becomes the recipient of various power ups that launch themselves at him from inside the game itself. He soon fills a bag with newfound spheres, such as forcefields, invisibility and so on, using them for his own gain in amusing ways. Hugh also gains the power of a free life from the game, which leads to shenanigans the likes of which were seen in the Michael Keaton film, Multiplicity.
Almost every other page has a laugh in this book, from Moby the cat’s expression as he slides down an invisible shield to Doyle’s hairy chest revealing antics. This is the first book of TenNapel’s I’ve read. I have his Earthboy Jacobus OGN on my “I’m getting to it” shelf, and now I have to pick it up, after enjoying this.
Power Up’s beauty lies in its simple, yet heartfelt story. It’s humorous, to be sure, but it also has a powerful message between the laughs. It reminded me somewhat of the Adam Sandler film Click in the way it shows a man in love with his recent abilities while neglecting his loved ones. Also like that endearingly amusing movie, it shows the importance of family towards the end of the story.
It’s quite impressive that TenNapel can convey the emotions he does. At first glance the art looks almost too sketchy. It’s not, but that reveals his cartooning background – the ability to show a lot of expression in few lines.
This is a book for Gen X gamers looking to share something with their kids, or those who simply want an enjoyable comic that’ll make them laugh. A lot.