For those who like some bite in their kid’s books will find that Guillaume Bianco’s “Billy Fog and the Gift of Trouble Sight” has plenty of it.
A dark and troubling story about a dark and troubled boy, the book draws on several authors for inspiration in presenting a book that’s a unique amalgamation.
The most obvious, especially visually, is Edward Gorey, whose twisted, macabre look at the world has been a cult favorite for decades. He’s probably best known for his opening title sequence for PBS’ “Mystery,” but I first discovered him with a poster featuring his “Ghaslycrumb Tinies,” and alphabet featuring 26 children meeting grizzly fates.
Bianco apes Gorey’s storytelling style and background art style in several sequences, but his character work is his own. And he’s somewhat more gruesome.
Billy Fog is a little boy who becomes a little obsessed with death after the loss of his cat, Tarzan. He comes to see spirits and other ghoulies, but in a refreshing twist, doesn’t seem to concerned about it. He’s more intent on bringing Tarzan back.
Meanwhile, his little sister, Jeannie, is a constant pest.
But “Billy Fog” isn’t a straight narrative. It goes all over the place, with comic style strips, faux newspaper reports, monster field guides, poetry and even a letter to Santa Claus.
Along the way, you see allusions to Maurice Sendak (“Where the Wild Things Are”), Tim Burton (“Nightmare Before Christmas”) and even A. A. Milne (“Winnie the Pooh”). And, I’m guessing, since Bianco is French, and this book was originally published there, several European authors I’m unfamiliar with.
Archaia has given the book a T rating for 13 years and older, and that’s appropriate. It can get a bit gruesome but never seems gratuitous.
It’s a fun hardcover. Thanks, Archaia, for bringing it to the U.S. I look forward to seeing more from him in his own style, which looks like fun, too.