The Clouds Above.
Last week my mother sent me a Harlequin Romance novel. Pardon me, a Harlequin Super Romance novel. What elevated this assembly-line bodice ripper above the lesser bargain bin romance novels I’ll never know, because I took it to work the next day, unopened, and tossed it into the blue storage bin the employees use as a library/free book giveaway. It landed with a soft thwack, sliding across dozens of other copies of cheap pulp fiction and layers of last week’s tabloids (same thing.) I don’t think my mother read it, either.
“You probably won’t like it,” she said. “But they delivered it along with the evening paper one day, so I just sent it on.”
My prejudice against these mass-produced little paperbacks was formed when I was six or seven and spending the afternoon at my Aunt Mary’s large white saltbox house. There were two paper grocery bags next to the front door stuffed with dozens of them. My Aunt Mary had driven them over to the Jumble sale at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, but the sale organizers had refused them on grounds that they had too many already. Evidently all the female parishioners at St. Mary’s had at least two garbage bags full of Harlequins they couldn’t give away.
Nobody wants these books, I thought, because they all look alike on the outside, and they all probably are alike on the inside, and nobody really cares about them, and who knows if anybody even really writes them? Robots do, probably.
Conversely, I developed a strong appreciation for writers who genuinely seem to care about how every sentence is crafted, and comic writers who care about every panel. Maybe it’s a matter of respect? I don’t get the feeling that the writers of Harlequin Romance (or Super Romance!) novels respected their readers very much, and don’t care whether the books are well-written or not.
Renee French’s graphic novel The Ticking, I felt, paid the highest compliment to her readers by creating a novel where every word, every page had been carefully crafted and perfected before its release. It makes you feel that if you were to recommend it to someone who did not like it, that you could feel confident that the problem was not you or The Ticking, it was the person who inexplicably could not appreciate such a fine work.
When I read that one of French’s influences in writing this remarkable book was Jordan Crane’s The Clouds Above, I knew I had to read it. French warned that the two books don’t have much in common, and she was right.
I received the “Regular, Just Fine” edition of The Clouds Above (as opposed to the “Extra Fancy Limited Edition” that is also offered) and found it to be a delightful, light-hearted children’s fantasy. Unlike The Ticking, The Clouds Above is in full color, although Crane focuses primarily on soft cotton candy pink and bright canary yellow. Simon and his fat cat Jack, late for school one day, hide up on the rooftop, where they discover a staircase that spirals endlessly up into the sky. As they climb higher and higher, the air gets colder and colder, and the pair abandoned the staircase for a romp in the sugary pink clouds, where they meet a bird-loving cumulus named Perch, battle angry thunderheads, and fail to befriend a flock of rambunctious yellow birds.
It’s nothing like French’s book at all, until you consider that both Crane and French sweated the details in every single panel page. Simon’s hair is dreamy and pink, setting him apart from his other classmates, the cranky teacher has flies circling her, and honestly, what won my heart in the beginning is the inside cover, which features Simon and Jack sleeping on a cloud. In the middle of the cloud, just like in those Little Golden Books I remembered from childhood, are the words “This BOOK belongs to:” and there’s enough space underneath for a child-like scrawl.
The Clouds Above is like getting a Whitman’s Sampler back in the day when you were little enough to think that was some fancy candy. Holding the square, thick pink book is like holding the candy box, and each page inside is like a perfect, individual piece of candy. And, like a Whitman’s Sampler, you shouldn’t rush to finish the entire book at once. Savor each page for its unique flavor.
I can’t wait to read it to my kids. I hope they like it. And if they don’t, well, that’s their fault.
This review first posted at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
The Clouds Above
by Jordan Crane
2005 by Fantagraphics
Hardcover, 216 pp
Sunday, August 20, 2006
The Clouds Above.