Thursday, December 15, 2011

For Friday: Thompson's Good-Bye, Chunky Rice

About the Book:

The genesis of Good-Bye, Chunky Rice was in a series of short, autobiographical sketches that Thompson wrote to relieve his own homesickness after moving to Portland.  As he explains, “Interesperced between those stories was a cute little adventure story of a turtle. When I moved to Portland, Brett Warnock, who eventually became my publisher, said, “those autobiographical strips are just for you and your friends, and aren’t publishable, per se, but if you ever want to do a book about this turtle character, I’ll gladly publish it.” I guess it was that prompting that inspired me to do a full book about Chunky Rice” (The Daily Cross Hatch). 

Thompson worked on what would become his first book while doing illustrations for Dark Horse Comics and Top Shelf Productions, among others.  The final work, strongly influenced by his childhood love for Jim Henson and Dr. Seuss, was published by Top Shelf in 1999, quickly earning him critical if not commercial success.  Despite a Harvey Award and an Ignatz Award Nomination, Thompson struggled to make ends meet as a graphic artist, working so hard he developed tendonitis.  According to his blog, when he received his printer’s comps of the third edition of Chunky Rice, he sold them all to Powell’s Books simply for food and rent money (Doot Doot Garden)

Other works by Thompson:
Carnet de Voyage (2004)
Blankets (2005)
Habibi (2011)

Link to Thompson's website, the Doot-Doot Garden:


  1. This novel is drawn in a very simple cartoonish style. However, the simplicity of the artwork makes the melancholy easier to stomach. Looking at the cuteness of characters like Chunky and Dandel contrast drastically with the ugly and deformed look of the humans in the piece. The simplicity of the caricatures seems to take a backseat to the complexity of the large black sea. Honestly, the artwork was hard to get passed, especially the frames with humans in them simply because of their offensive appearance. But looking at the doe eyes of Dandel or the cute cherub face of Chunky make it possible to finish. The way the frames are placed are interesting. Some seem to lie on top of others, while others seem to simple cut off at the edge of the page.
    The only person I believe capable of transferring this novel to another medium might be Hayao Miazaki. The gentleness of small characters and the oppressiveness of the perceived bad guys almost seem to come from his movies. This story does not lend its self well to the novel form. The quiet calm of a single frame where Chunky is staring out into the darkness of the night upon the water would lose the “it” factor was someone to describe it with words and phrases. One of the most irritating aspects of this work is what would make it almost impossible to change mediums; the lack of a true ending.
    This actually a collection of five individual tales blended together. There are times they overlap, but each subject tends to stay to themselves. Like Batman, we rarely see from the characters perspective, but we do hear what they are thinking. This gives us a third person omniscient point of view.
    A significant scene in the novel is when Chunky is moving the boxes around in the cargo hold. He works his little heart out. The small frames signifying the urgence and speed at which he moves, wearing himself out to perform a task he was told is to help out someone who is overworked only to find out that he was taken advantage of. The single audible sigh he gives lends an air of levity to the scene. The greatness of the scene is the fact that there is no real dialogue. It is simply told by the facial expressions of a little turtle.

  2. The scene that really stuck out to me was the scene where the radio finally starts to work and it’s playing Motown. Chunky starts dancing, everything blurs around him, and you can tell he loves it. (I was picturing him dancing like Michael Jackson in my mind since he had the Jackson 5 record at the beginning.) Then in the next frame you see Dandel riding her bike, listening to the radio, when she realizes it’s their song. She stops her bike and dances, too, and it’s like they’re dancing together even though they are so far apart. This sequence is important because it shows how well they know each other, that they would do anything for each other, and that they won’t forget each other. I admire the art because the images bring their own story to mind and you can tell what’s happening even without the words, especially Dandel on the beach because it’s like she’s happy for the first time since Chunky left.

  3. 1. I thought the illustrations for this book were very interesting. They have somewhat of a cartoon feel to them but there is something different about them. Everyone seems to be drawn very differently and I don't think the same style really flows throughout the characters. Chunky Rice and Dandel are cute little looking cartoons. Charles, Solomon and the twins have a different style and are really pretty creepy looking. I think this gave me the feeling that Chunky Rice and Dandel are supposed to still seem young and innocent. Charles, Solomon and the twins all seem to already have experienced some kind of significant loss in their lives. Solomon lost Stomper, Charles lost his wife and Livonia lost her bear. While I don't think we technically hear about Ruth losing anything she has never had the ability to go anywhere and we see her struggle to get her sister to take her where she wants to go, so she lost that control a longtime ago. I think maybe the way the characters are drawn try and show us that Chunky Rice and Dandel haven't experienced all the pain the other characters have yet but that this may be the beginning of it for them.

  4. 1 Good-Bye Chunky Rice is indeed represented by a very cartoon-like art style. However, hidden in it's almost childish illustrations is a still mature feel. Chunky himself as well as Dandel are the only two “people” that are represented by animals. There are then actual people who appear in human form, but they are symbolic of the type of person they are supposed to represent (I will get onto why this is in the next question). The overall feel is almost whimsical and fantastic. Everything is exaggerated. Everything is metaphorical.

    2 This particular story is and feels like it should be told as a fable. However, words alone would never do it justice. Saying that a boy is a turtle is not the same as showing him as one. It shows that he is still in his shell. It shows that he does not feel at home in any particular place. He is in love with Dandel, yet he leaves her behind because it is not his place to be. If this were to be written in a book, it would lose the element of metaphor. As a film, however, they would insist upon adding sound. That alone would ruin something like this. To add a layer to this would then take away. It is simplistic, yet efficient in its minimalism. Everything is wrapped up nicely. Also, in the comic, there are frames where Solomon's father Paw is—or rather, should be—shown in totality, yet his face is covered up except his mouth and body. A similar thing is applied to Charles's woman. Her face, however, is completely blocked from view. This covers are sometimes word bubbles. That would be lost if this went to a novel or film venue.

    3 There is Chunky's point of view, Dandel's, Solomon's, and Charles's. With each of these come a very different way of viewing things. Chunky is a quiet observer, waiting for an answer to come before him. This does not make him dumb, but it does show that he lacks initiative. Dandel is seeking an answer. She wants something else to say besides “I miss you” in her letters to Chunky. Solomon's view point is very childlike, yet his I find the most compelling. He looks the part of an old sea dog, speaks the dialect well enough, but he is still very much caught up in the past, trying to seek redemption for things that were never really his fault. He merely was a scapegoat. Charle's, on the other hand, cannot stop escaping from everything around him. He lost what I can only assume to be his first wife, Glenda. Since then, he has taken in a faceless replacement who does not understand him, nor does she try. She fills the roll of a housewife, yet no emotional ties are bound to her.

    4 The scene that comes to mind is when Charles says to Chunky, “I love the sea because it is boundless.” As soon as these words leave his mouth, the camera zooms out and out and out until the “boundless sea” is no more than the drops left in a bottle. This harkens back to the beginning of the story when Chunky and Dandel create their sand castle and say, “We built an entire world.” Not only that, but the fact that the story begins and ends the same way, almost in a reflective manner, shows that everything is connected. Everything is also limited. You exist in the world, and while to you, a small ship captain, the sea is boundless, it is only a small part of what could be seen. Even if he were to travel the stars, he is still limited to the fact that we exist inside a universe. Connected and limited. Yet, because he is so small, it doesn't matter that it is limited. He cannot see the end, the edge, so it is not there.

  5. 1. Good Bye, Chunky Rice has interesting illustrations. It could be characterized very cartoony; however, it is very ornate and artistic in its own merit. It is very detailed in the backgrounds of every frame and it seems very artistic. This novel is not realistic at all. The artwork does create a kind, pure tone. With is being cartoony, it creates a more child like atmosphere for the reader. However, the love between Chunky and Dandel and Solomon’s terrible flashbacks create a more adult like atmosphere. I really felt like it was contradictory. It is too childish. The theme of the whole story is “lose” (Chunky and Dandel lose each other while Solomon has experienced loss with his puppies and the bird). It does also reflect hope in that love will overcome distance. These are very serious, mature ideas that children will not get. I don’t think the overall artwork fits with the theme. The illustrations are very detailed and great for a childish audience; however, I feel like for the purpose of the story there needs to be more real images. I cannot take it as serious with how cartoony it is.

    2. I think the story was written as a graphic novel to present both the characters’ dialogue while revealing other aspects of the story. A novel or short story would present a description of what is going on; however, a graphic novel gives pictures that describe the story. The readers see what Chunky is going through from only glancing at a couple of frame. A reader of a novel would have to flip 50 pages to just get an idea. I think that the story would lose its ability to have several different events take place at one time if it were done in a novel or short story. A novel can’t allow for several different conversations going on at the same time. It also doesn’t allow for two different events taking place at the same time (Chunky on the ship and Dandel on the beach placing messages in bottles). We can see the conversation through separate frames with conversation bubble on the same page. A novel can’t do this.
    If this story was taken to film it would not have the same impact because it would not be taken seriously at all. The story is about a turtle and a mouse in love. In a movie it would not be realistic to have a turtle and mouse. It could be turned into a cartoon movie; however, the story is intended more for adults than children. There are ideas in the story that children won’t understand and not many adults will watch what they think is a children’s movie. So, in the end, a movie would be meaningless. The story needs to be presented in a graphic novel so that the reader can get a full grasp of what everything that is going on in the story while not focusing on how realistic it is.

    4. The scene that I found most significant to the story is on pages 85 and 86. This is point right before Chunky Rice leaves his love. He is having conflict on whether it is the right thing to do. We can clearly see that he loves Dandel by the way he is holding her close. However, he wants to travel and find himself. The whole point of the story is this decision for him to leave and how it affects both Dandel and himself. I think I admire this section for both the narrative and the art. The words are important because Chunky says his home I on his back but he feels more at home with Dandel. This is emotional because I can see the conflict and how much it hurts him to leave her. I also love the art in this frame. It is dark and rainy. This really adds to the emotion of the piece because we can feel how depressed he feels at the moment. On top of the rain and darkness, the picture of Dandel being asleep the whole time while Chunky is saying what he says really adds to the emotion. It states that she is asleep by the sounds she’s making; however, we don’t know if he is really asleep. With him holding her while she is sleeping it is sweet, but sad. I think the combination of both narrative and art makes this scene very affective.

  6. 1) I really, really like the artwork. The artwork is cartoonish, but incredibly enjoyable. The artwork sets a tone that is interesting for the story. Your heart is warmed from the moment you open the comic. It feels childish, but in a good way. At first I thought Thompson may have made this choice to make the story a bit easier to read. The more I read, the more the story was hard to deal with, especially at the beginning with the leaving of Chunky. The work feels so childish, but as it begins, we realize how childish it isn't. This story would not have the same effect if the artwork was different, for the reasons that were mention above.

    2) If this story was written any other way, little kids would be trying to pick up this story, and they shouldn't. This story is not for them. The oxymoron of cartoonish drawings and serious subjects adds an element of awesome. This could not be a film in any way because again, the animation would attract ones that shouldn’t see it.

    3) I feel as if Chunky is mainly the narrator. Even though he talks very little. He narrates by simply observing and dropping small comments here and there. I'm slightly reminded of Scout from "To Kill a Mockingbird," how everything she narrated was through the eyes of a child. I feel that Chunky has great innocence, and this is why he's so quiet most of the time.

    4) I don't know how much significance this passage has versus my love I have for the moment that Thompson created. The moment is created when Chunky leaves and Dandele is mourning the leaving of his friend. This moment is so gut wrenching. I felt my heart turn as he says, "On second thought, rather than gaining significance, my environment is suddenly drained of it. What does a breathtaking view of the ocean mean with out you? Nothing." This moment shows the relationship between Dandele and Chunky which causes one to examine their relationship in multiple aspects. Aspect one is a male female relationship in which Chunky is leaving his crush. This is assuming that the characters have a gender, because unless I'm wrong, Thompson never really assigns genders to some of the characters. Then, there's another relationship that could be exemplified in the scene, a homosexual relationship. Due to the fact that initially we assume that both are males, the relationship when closely examined could be that of two young boys in love with each other. I feel it could be this way because of certain things both say concerning the leaving, the letter writing, mourning the sites, etc. The third possible relationship could be that of a deep brotherly love, for the same reasons as mentioned for theory number 2. Whatever the true relationship is, it is a tear jerking moment in the story.

  7. 4. The scene on pg. 23, where Solomon is ordered to drown the puppies is very significant because it shows the reason he is so attached to Merle the bird. It is in that scene where he is forced to lose his innocence by the orders of his father. It seems that because of this he is destined to lose Stomper. It is also, at least in his mind,the reason he loves the bird and promises no harm will befall it. By taking in Merle, its as if Stomper is giving him another chance to find redemption for drowning her puppies.