We often associate haunted house narratives with the horror genre through classics from literature and other media such as The Haunting of Hill House and The Shining. However, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, as works like Beetlejuice has shown a more comedic side. BOOM! Studios’ original middle grade graphic novel Forever Home, for instance, is more in the vein of Casper the Friendly Ghost.
From cartoonist Jenna Ayoub, who has illustrated comics under Cartoon Network programs such as Adventure Time and The Amazing World of Gumball, Forever Home centers on Willow, the daughter of two militants. Due to their profession, the family has been moving from one home to the next, as Willow dreams of just staying put. When the family arrives at their latest stop, the historic Hadleigh House, Willow encounters a bunch of ghosts who have been scaring off would-be homebuyers for decades, and they intend to keep the house to themselves.
A comical clash of the living existing among the dead is a scene we’ve seen before, and because this is aiming for a younger demographic, don’t expect a bloody outcome, let alone a scary one. That said, I was surprised how dark the humor can be, from the backstory of some of the ghosts such as the young widow who may or may not have murdered her many lovers, to the malevolent spirit who turns into a car whilst demonically threatening Willow.
Ayoub is aware of the cliches of the haunted house narrative, from ghost hunting to the acknowledgement of bleeding walls. Whatever subversion Ayoub is setting up isn’t really there, but what truly brings out the humor and the heart of the book is its characters. One’s home brings a sense of both comfort and belonging, especially at a young age. As much as the ghostly Hadleigh sisters are determined to scare away anybody claiming their historic home, Willow is willing to change their minds. For all the slapstick that occurs, the resolution is understanding one another and eventually sharing, which is an ideal message for the kiddies.
Given her background as a cartoonist, Ayoub’s innocent artwork will win most everyone over. Through simple line drawing, her characters are so expressive that you don’t need any words to showcase how the inhabitants of Hadleigh House are feeling. As always, when it comes to pets – in this case, Fenrir the dog and the evil cat – they steal the show. Although there’s no dynamic paneling, Ayoub makes good use of the splash pages, which chapters the whole book, as well as serving as funny transitions to the next scene.
Forever Home doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of the haunted house narrative, but it’s a fun, heartwarming tale about the understanding of others and the significance of a home.
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