Wednesday, August 8, 2012

High Silliness: Teen Boat!

When Dave Roman and John Green's first Teen Boat mini popped up at SPX a decade ago, it created a minor sensation, one that built a few years later when it won an Ignatz award for Best Debut. The reason why it became so popular is encapsulated in its ridiculous tagline: "The Angst of Being a Teen/The Thrill of Being a Boat!" That statement doesn't make any sense, which is fine since Roman and Green aren't concerned with making their narrative coherent or logical. Instead, each chapter sends up various aspects of culture aimed at teens with the central conceit of the book: that its titular protagonist can transform into a small yacht whenever he wants. The comics parody both Archie-style high school silliness along with John Hughes movie angst, as Teen Boat (yes, this is his actual name) has a female best friend who pines away for him while he's hot after the school sexpot, exchange student Nina Pinta Santa Maria.  Yep, the jokes are that direct and silly and Roman and Green are entirely unapologetic about the silliness.
The tone is actually akin go Nickelodeon cartoon: slightly edgy, aware of pop culture without delving too deeply into it, extremely silly and devoted to its own high concepts in a way that is over the top but internally consistent.  The Nickelodeon connection makes sense give that Roman was an editor at Nickelodeon Magazine and Green has worked for them. The first couple of stories find TB trying to fit in with the cool crowd by attending a party as a party boat for the school jock, only to find that they wanted him out over international waters so they could gamble.  Naturally, pirates show up, but TB's best friend may have saved the day thanks to her secret ability to transform into an iceberg. In another issues, he goes to Venice (with the school yachting club) and falls in love with a sentient gondola. He goes undercover to bust a boat-stealing ring.  He gets in a car accident and winds up having the ability to turn into a boat and its trailer, which still controlling a car. You get the idea; Roman and Green tackle each concept with gusto, throwing out wave after wave of jokes at the reader. 

The color makes this an attractive package, though I honestly thought the original minicomics were more effective than the book. The book feels a little overdone for such a slim premise, even if the book is careful not to let the colors dominate in a garish fashion. Considering the book's target audience (ages 12 and up), the use of color does make sense.  Not every joke lands, and some of the book's more obvious targets are groaners, but the concept of Teen Boat is so surprisingly sturdy and pleasant that it invites a lot of good will from its readers. It's best read in short chunks given the repetitive nature of the concept, but it will likely be a treasured book for a number of children who enjoys its mild satirization of teenage life and silly adventures.

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