Thursday, July 11, 2013

Travis' Book Review: Chillax by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman


Sixteen-year-old Jeremy is a future rock god. Jeremy’s band practices every Saturday and he’s been learning the guitar part for “Quintuple Amputee.” If he can just figure out that crazy chord the guitar player for Gingivitis, the “best guitar mayhem band since Flatulent Rat,” uses, he would really get a feel for the heart of the song – too bad that chord is so tough to play it’s rumored to have been outlawed in a few southern states. That’s a different story, though. The real story here is that Jeremy’s friend Tim sold him and his best amigo, Hector, a pair of tickets to the Gingivitis concert. His first real concert! Without his parents! It’s going to be epic – if he and Hector can convince their parents to let them go, that is. Jeremy has been responsible, lately; after all, he did put his own ice cream bowl in the dishwasher when his mom had the flu. Surely that kind of maturity is enough to convince them to let them go. They even teamed up to buy their own car, a VW hippie van so vintage that even the cement blocks it sat on looked “retro and cool.” When Jeremy and Hector find out that Tim actually sold them the concert tickets because he has to donate bone marrow to his sick mother, though, the two friends decide they have to make it to that show and have an epic time – for Tim!


Chillax is the first novel based on the popular Zits comic strip, written by Jerry Scott and illustrated by Jim Borgman. Like the comics, Chillax is a lot of fun.  The novel really expands on the characters of the strip, while maintaining the heart and simple comedic nature of a story that is usually told in 3 panels. Scott’s storytelling and writing style stays true to its comic nature, maintaining a casual voice, never overextending itself, and not taking itself too seriously. The boys’ typical day includes engineering a way to start their van by using Hector’s retainer, mistaking piles of dirty clothes for beds, and procrastinating when it comes to writing a paper on some ancient waterbed scandal involving Richard Nixon. What the writing may lack in eloquence, it more than makes up for in both humor and insight into the mind of a 16-year-old teenage rocker – some of the ideas even hit a little too close to home.  


Almost all of the pages are accompanied by Borgman’s simple, yet charming, comic art. Scott and Borgman do a wonderful job transitioning between written and graphic storytelling elements of the book, often using panels to finish a thought or add to the scene – think Diary of a Wimpy Kid, only a little more grown up. The illustrations really capture the characters’ feelings and contribute to the tone of the book. When Tim tells Jeremy why he sold his concert tickets, it’s done on a full page with darkened lines and shadows, highlighting the only words on the page – “My mom has cancer.” It’s a simple, but effective, technique used by a number of comic artists, but it’s a little notion that really adds to the experience of the book and the effectiveness of the storytelling. Some of the artwork is a little distracting, though, and it is often tempting to read the comic panels before actually reading the paragraphs leading up to them. As easy as it is to follow the story, however, this never really becomes an issue.


The world of Zits is modern enough to include social commentary about texting and using Facebook, but the ideas expand across generations. Jeremy dresses like he’s heading to a Pearl Jam show, idolizes a band that could be Motley Crüe, and takes off on a “Detroit Rock City” style adventure. Scott’s writing pays tribute to 40-plus years of hard rock, while simultaneously making fun of it in a way that rock music fans can appreciate. Who wouldn’t want to hear Gingivitis’s hit album Does This Look Infected? The book has a lot of heart, too, exploring different aspects of the relationship between friends and family. For example, while coping with cancer is a major theme in the novel, the subject is dealt with in a positive, uplifting way. Tim’s friends want to find ways to help and support him, and Jeremy is able to learn a lesson about the importance of simply listening to a friend in his time of need. The emotions and revelations are never forced on the reader, but rather feel natural in the progression of the story.


Some of the anecdotes in the story come straight from the comic strip, but fans of Zits will still find plenty of appeal in the novel. For those not familiar with the comic, the novel is still a quality read and nice introduction to the series. Teens, especially guys with an appreciation for rock music and guitar playing, will love the humor, and at nearly 240 illustration-filled pages, Chillax is even easy enough for middle readers. Fast readers can potentially read it in one sitting! To sum things up, Chillax is a quick, funny read that manages to put a little heart into the sleazy world of rock music. So, Dude, why wouldn’t you read it?



Spoiler alert: The acoustic intro to Gingivitis’s “Quintuple Amputee” is actually plucked on the guitar player’s nipple studs! Who knew?


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