Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Carlos, are we gonna meet any ghosts today?"
"Oh! Well... they usually can't be seen this early in the year, but as we get closer to autumn, you'll notice them more."
"Told you he was lying..."
"I'm not lying. Ghosts really do hang out there."
"OKAY. PROVE IT!"
"I have to talk to a ghost, Catrina!"
"What do you want to ask it about?"
"I want to know what happens when you die."
"Uh-huh, and I want to fly. But it's not like that's ever going to happen."
"Dying isn't pretend, Cat. It's real."
So Raina Telgemeier returns with her fourth original graphic novel following on from SMILE, SISTERS and DRAMA. She clearly likes her one-word titles, and obviously prefers to make it abundantly clear what you're going to get! And you will get ghosts here, lots and lots of them. In that respect, though, it's a little bit of a departure from Raina, or perhaps more precisely a broadening of the fictional brushstrokes, from entirely contemporary matters which she does so well, to include some more supernatural, fantastical elements. With that said, the true heart of the story still revolves about the relationships between the three main young characters: Carlos, the local boy familiar with the ectoplasmic entertainers of the area, and sisters Catrina and Maya, who've recently moved to wet and windy Bahia de la Luna due to Maya's cystic fibrosis.
Carlos likes Catrina, who definitely fancies Carlos but is too shy to show it and thus maintains an aloof and arrogant facade. Catrina and Maya do get on in typically rollercoaster sibling fashion, but not surprisingly Catrina, despite having much compassion for her sister's condition, takes the restrictions it places on her own life with a typical touch of excess teenage angst at times. Maya, meanwhile, thinks Carlos is wonderful and wants him to introduce her to the ghosts, which he does with some unexpected consequences... Despite the unsettling and upsetting emotional element to the story with Maya's life-shortening illness, it still has plenty of the mischief that Vera Brosgol produced by combining schoolgirls and spooky apparitions so very well in ANYA'S GHOST.
It's definitely a step on in the sophistication of Raina's story-telling, which has been developing nicely since SMILE, and indeed, whilst her art style hasn't changed dramatically, it is becoming ever more polished. For what on the surface appears to be a relatively simplistic, colourful, cartoony style, akin to the likes of the animation on the likes of the STEVEN UNIVERSE show, there's frequently a lot of detailed work in there.
There are a couple of other interesting factoids probably worth mentioning about Raina, who is considerably more well known in her native continent than over here, and her output. In 2015, her previous books accounted for a staggering 11 million dollars worth of sales... beaten only by a certain Robert Kirkman with his zombie army of WALKING DEAD trades. SMILE, SISTERS and DRAMA all being New York Times #1 bestsellers. Which probably all explains why the first print run for GHOSTS was a staggering 500,000 copies, a record for an original graphic novel. Irrespective of whether her material is to your particular taste or not, I think it's absolutely brilliant that all-ages material is selling so well.