The Dumbest Idea Ever!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 17th, 2014

With this post’s title, it would be easy to think I’m about to sling a little mud. But really, I want to sing the praises of a graphic novel memoir by one of my favorite cartoonists, Jimmy Gownley. As graphic novels go, I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I don’t read every one that crosses my path, but I have loved many since cutting my GN teeth on Alan Moore’s The Watchmen a zillion years ago (okay, in the late ’80s). I like everything from the whimsical — the hilarious Binky the Space Cat series is an instant sell to everyone I show it to — to the adventurous (Zita the Space Girl, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword) to the quirky (Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, almost anything by Edward Gorey, etc.) and many, many others. I’m also a huge fan of Scott McCloud’s brilliant Understanding Comics. Anyhow, all this by way of saying that I have a genuine, if amateur, appreciation of the graphic novel, and Jimmy Gownley is the bee’s knees.

I can’t recall who turned me on to Gownley’s Amelia Rules series, but I remember thinking, “Why haven’t I seen these before?! They’re fabulous!” Amelia Rules is sort of a slightly older Peanuts, full of wry observations, hilariously mortifying experiences, great friendships, and appealingly flawed characters. I’m not sure how well known the series is among kids nationwide, but it’s deserving of a very wide audience of readers.

So when an ARC of Gownley’s memoir arrived at the bookstore recently (The Dumbest Idea Ever!, Scholastic/Graphix, publishing February 25, 2014), it had one of the shortest shelf-to-read time spans in my personal galley history. I grabbed it and finished it the same night, in one fast, happy gulp. It’s the story of how Jimmy Gownley started drawing comics as a young teen, and how “the dumbest idea ever” from his best friend, who suggested Gownley abandon the superhero story he was struggling with and instead write about kids like themselves — and what happened when he finally did.

Gownley’s comics always have a generous spirit and boatloads of humor, and that’s true in this book, too. Here, much of that humor is at his own expense. For example, after his comics have brought him local fame at a young age, Jimmy’s ego becomes a little much until he is firmly pulled back to earth by an exasperated friend.

One of the things I love about this memoir is that Gownley doesn’t limit his story just to his love of drawing. He was also a really good basketball player, and he had a range of friends — including girls — that he admired and respected. Gownley excels at creating a full, rich sense of a teenage world.

Beyond the laughter, I think young readers will come away impressed with Jimmy Gownley’s persistence in pursuing his passion (a passion, by the way, that he wasn’t born into, but discovered) despite the frustrations and false starts, and inspired by the serendipitous way that dumb ideas, combined with an open mind, imagination, talent, and satisfying hard work, can lead to brilliant success.

(Note: the ARC lists the age range as a narrow 10-12, but the story follows Jimmy up through his middle teens, including a first girlfriend, and I’m planning on giving this to my 14-year-old nephew, who is a sophisticated reader I know will enjoy it.)

ShelfTalker folks, I’m curious: has anyone ever given you a really dumb idea that turned out to be an unexpected boon?

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