BOOK REVIEW – Hippy Jonny and the Banality of Life by Ryan Dodd (Graphic Novel)

By Marty Mulrooney

Hippy Jonny and the Banality of Life by Ryan Dodd

Hippy Jonny and the Banality of Life is dual national British/American graphic novelist Ryan Dodd’s debut graphic novel. It was published on the 31st of August 2011 by Tabella Publishing and has also been put onto iTunes as an app for the iPad. It tells the story of Jonny, a recently fired from his job and therefore unemployed hippy, who wishes to escape the banality of life in post credit-crunch Britain…

The art style of Hippy Jonny and the Banality of Life immediately jumps out at you from the very first page. Ryan Dodd uses dark ink lavishly – whereas most comics and graphic novels separate panels with the white of the page itself, here it is as if white ink is being used on black paper. The result is unusual and eye-catching – perhaps even more impressive, the book manages to convey a light, humourous tone throughout despite being visually very dark.

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At the beginning of the book, Jonny is called into the manager’s office at work to be told his performance has been falling over the past few months. When asked if he has anything to say for the record, Jonny replies with the words “Fuck you!” and is promptly fired. Cheering himself up with a stop at the newsagents on the way home to buy some beer and skittles (“what else do you need?”), Jonny seems to get over the news of his sudden unemployment rather quickly and plays some Xbox at his ‘pad’ before visiting his friend Ezekiel, who has a doorbell that plays “Buffalo Soldier”. Hippy Jonny and the Banality of Life starts as it means to go on – carefree and hilarious.

The reason Hippy Jonny works so well is that it’s refreshingly honest – it captures post credit-crunch Britain pretty much perfectly and even if you are nothing like Jonny, you will probably know someone who is. His friends are also comfortably familiar characters – who doesn’t have a friend who tells extremely longwinded, ultimately pointless and grossly exaggerated (probably untrue) stories? Jonny and his friends are harmless, weed-smoking, beer-chugging (cash-permitting), spaced-out slackers who are seemingly phased by nothing.

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The story itself is almost secondary, but for once that isn’t actually such a bad thing. Just like Jonny’s life, the book swings wildly from one event to the next, but there is always an undercurrent of true purpose. By the end of the book, Jonny will find a job he enjoys – customising bikes – even if the job centre is determined to crush him, and the girl of his dreams will be his. It’s actually rather charming that Jonny doesn’t have to do much to make all of this happen – people like him always seem to land on their feet.

Hippy Jonny and the Banality of Life is a great debut graphic novel that reminds me of Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work. The dialogue is sharp, the artwork is unique and the characters are extremely likable. The brief length (88 pages) certainly leaves the reader hungry for more. However, I do feel that a greater length could have strengthened the emotional core – essentially the romantic elements – of the plot, something that O’Malley always excels at. Still, whether Dodd’s next graphic novel is a follow up to Hippy Jonny and the Banality of Life or something entirely new, I’ll be first in line. A strong debut from a truly promising indie graphic novelist.

8 OUT OF 10

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