6/08/2006

This is how we do it in Turlock

Doug Tennapel's graphic novel Creature Tech is entertaining and unique. I've just read through it (twice) and I'm pretty impressed. This man has the wildest imagination you could possibly imagine. Somehow, though, you don't quite notice how wild the story is while you're reading it. I think this is because the wildness isn't random. Tennapel is not just weaving a whimsical tale about space eels and parasitic alien life forms and a mad scientist who sells his soul to the devil. He is telling a story about faith and a man's journey from naturalism to Christianity. And, somehow, the space eels and alien parasites and mad scientist fit so perfectly into that story that you don't notice how crazy it all is. Until you try to explain the story to someone else. My explanation to Emily of a scene I liked went something like this: "So, this mad scientist has unleashed a bunch of demon-cats on Turlock, and a couple of local hicks are driving around in a truck with a giant mantis killing them. One of the locals pulls out a shotgun and says 'Time to excercise my second-ammendment rights. This is how we do it in Turlock' as he blows a hole through one of the cats." Needless to say, Emily is unconvinced by my claims that there is actually anything serious going on amid all the craziness.

But there is. Creature Tech is the story of Dr. Michael Ong, a genius who dropped out of seminary and became a world-class scientist, relocated by the government to an X-Files-like institute (nicknamed Creature Tech by the locals) in his out-of-the-way hometown of Turlock, CA. When the ghost of an english scientist named Jameson steals the Shroud of Turon from Creature Tech and uses it to resurect his corpse, Michael sets out to stop him from... well, if I told you I think you would stop taking me seriously. Along the way he falls in love with a deformed girl he used to make fun of in high school, picks up a symbiotic alien organism which attaches itself to his chest, and finds himself drawn back to the religion he rejected as a teenager.

Creature Tech can be a little preachy at times, and there are a few moments when the dialog feels forced, which is unfortunate because religion is so integral to the story that I can't help but think it could have been written more naturally. Nevertheless, on the whole Michael's journey to faith is subtle and, if anything, understated. Usually Tennapel lets his art to do the talking, to good effect.

The graphic novel is not exactly the highest art form known to man, so if your literature standards are high don't expect a masterpiece. The characters are interesting and likeably, but not especially deep. Do expect an entertaining, funny, bizzare, and deeply Christian journey through the imagination of Doug Tennapel.