January 4, 2011

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Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird

Written by Tony Millionaire
Illustrated by Tony Millionaire
Fantagraphics

Billy Hazelnuts is one strong and angry creature. He can toss cows or throw down with the family cat, but even Billy meets his match in this story, where the crazy creation must take care of a baby owl that's literally trying to eat him to death. Watch as Billy struggles to do the right thing while trying to stay alive, as the baby owl picks him (and anything else within range) apart. Can Billy keep it together long enough to get the baby owl back to its mother? Find out in Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird.

I had no idea this was a sequel when I got it out from the library and started reading it, but I don't think it's necessary to know Billy Hazelnuts' history in order to follow a long. Millionare helpfully fills the reader in as we go along, and part of the quality of this story is that the explanations do not slow the story down at all. We get the information we need in small doses from various characters, and each time it relates to what is going on in the current story. That's not the easiest thing to do, but Millionaire pulls it off quite well.

The story itself is absolutely insane. Billy starts off by fighting with farm animals, then fighting with the barn cat, all because he's disgusted by the circle of life. It's a rather silly thing to be upset about, and doesn't really go anywhere, in one of the few missteps in the book. Eventually Billy fights against an owl to save the cat, and that's how he becomes the caretaker of the baby owl. The saga of the baby owl leads us to a house made of candy, a candy car (with no headlights, which is apparently the only disturbing thing about it), and even a duck raft rental place in the middle of nowhere. There's no real rhyme or reason to the proceedings, and that's a big part of the fun. You don't know what outrageous scenario will greet you at the end of the next page.

The baby owl is a two-winged weapon of mass destruction, as Billy soon finds out to his dismay. Still, in a plot that reminds me of old Looney Tunes shorts, Billy won't give up on his quest, even when he is literally falling apart. The action keeps moving, with just about every page featuring something going on. There are quite a few joke lines, many of which have spot-on timing. By the end of the book, nothing implausible because we've seen everything from cake frosting as a seat belt to a talking creature hobbling along on one leg (which the bird really should have at least had the courtesy to eat). Millionaire keeps his foot on the gas and writes with the spirit of Chuck Jones and the rest of Termite Terrace lurking in his pen.

Artistically, Millionaire uses a mock wood block style that reminds me a bit of Rick Geary or Linda Medley, though with no sense (or need) for proportion. Everything is heavily inked, with strong vertical and horizontal lines. The lines suggest movement and action, which aids with the mania of the script and pacing. The result is scratchy and almost too busy at times, but Millionaire manages to make it work.

I had a lot of fun with Billy Hazenuts and the Crazy Bird. There are some things that don't make sense or aren't returned to as the story goes on, but that's okay by me, because the fun is in the now, not in the "how will this link up at the end?" I like stories that tie together like an intricate knot, but I also like watching the Roadrunner outsmart Wile E. Coyote and send him off the cliff. This book falls firmly into the latter category, and there's nothing wrong with that. If you're looking for madcap action, Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird should be right up your alley. It certainly was for me.