There are just two things I didn’t really like about Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, the new young-adult graphic novel by writer Prudence Shen (making her comics debut) and artist Faith Erin Hicks (Friends With Boys, The War at Ellsmere, Zombies Calling, other stuff). And they are minor things — quibbles, really — but I’m going to go ahead and lead my review with them anyway, as otherwise I have nothing but gushingly nice things to say about the comic, and I would hate to lose my reputation as a hard-to-please critic.
First, the supporting character Ben (second from the right on the cover) looks so much like actor Richard Ayoade that I found much of his panel-time during my first reading distracting, as I kept trying to place where I’ve seen him before.
Second, two other supporting characters are twin roboticists, and, naturally, when I think of twins who are also roboticists, I think of Kyle and Ken Katayanagi, Ramona’s fifth and sixth evil exes from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series. While the designs of the two sets of twins are pretty different, I think Hicks’ style bears a close enough resemblance to O’Malley’s (a little in the eyes, a lot in the manga-influenced action scenes) by dint of the two artists sharing similar influences, that the feeling of “Hey, haven’t I seen these guys before?” may be exacerbated. At least among the younger, more casual, more mainstream comics readers that this book is likely to appeal to (and by that I mean this is a comic that readers will be finding in bookstores and libraries more often than the comic book stores they visit once a week; it’s a comic for people who don’t already have a life-time habit of comics, in addition to those that do).
And that is, after a few weeks’ worth of thoughts on the matter, a complete and total list of everything wrong with Shen and Hicks’ Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, and even those are, as I said, quibbles — and things many readers might not be the least bit bothered or distracted by. Or even notice.
The book reads an awful lot like a YA novel that’s been adapted into a graphic novel, and without any foreknowledge, I would guess that may actually have been the case — Hicks’ acknowledgments at the back of the book thank Prudence “for being totally cool with me transforming a word book into a picture book.”
Transform it she did, to the extent that while it’s not impossible to imagine the book being told as a prose novel, so many of the gags are conveyed through the characters’ acting, subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes of expression and reactions to the imagery that they (and we) are presented with.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is the story of frenemies Charlie and Nate. Neighbors and childhood friends, the two have grown into two very different directions in high school, with the former a certified jock and captain of the basketball team, and the latter the president of the school robotics club. (In one of the book’s many neat reversal’s, Charlie is quite and laid-back, his alpha-male persona only arising on the basketball court, while Nate is the arrogant, aggressive, outgoing one.)
They are flung into conflict when its determined that the school has enough money to either pay for new uniforms for the cheerleaders, or to send the robotics club to a competition, but not both, and it will be up to student council to decide who gets the money. So head cheerleader Holly, who breaks up with Charlie via text message on the first page, press-gang him in to running as their proxy, doing all of his dirty campaigning for him. With his eyes on the funding for his club, Nate runs as well, and a nasty campaign ensues, with poor Charlie wanting nothing to do with it — or the wary between his scheming, cold, scary ex-girlfriend and his trying de facto best friend.
Ultimately, the two sides must unite in order to get what they both want, which involves running away from home on Thanksgiving, and entering the robotics club’s prize creation in a deadly (for robots) competition, The Robot Rumble (as a sucker for teen movies, the leveling of high school social structures, with the characters from different social strata finding common ground seen here hit the same button that elements of The Breakfast Club and She’s All That did).
While Shen’s script is a comedy, there’s a bit of melodramatic content as well, as Charlie has to deal with the emotional fall-out of his distant parents and their divorce, and the pressures of being the popular, cool tough-guy that he is anything but (in a lighthearted example of this, he finds himself being bullied by the super-nerds at the robotic combat arena).
Hicks’ art is here better than ever, something of a feat considering just how good it was in last year’s Friends With Boys. I’ve liked her art ever since I’ve first encountered it, but it’s amazing to see how much stronger and more refined its grown with nearly every project she’s drawn, her lines getting smoother and cleaner, her command of form, motion and emotion growing more complete. Here she’s at the peak of her artistic powers, but if the past is any indication, I should probably add a “for now,” as she’s apparently still growing as an artist, getting better and better.
Man, I do so hate to gush, I’m not comfortable gushing, but this was an all-around excellent graphic novel, and one I’d highly recommend. Shen, like Hicks, is now another creator whose next project I’m eager to see.