written by Jimmy Gownley
As the Amelia Rules! series opens, nine-year-old Amelia MacBride has just moved from New York to Pennsylvania because of her parents’ divorce. She has no time to dwell on her problems, though, because she falls in right away with a goofy new set of friends: Reggie, who is living the superhero lifestyle despite being in fourth grade; Rhonda, who goes along with Reggie’s schemes because of her enormous crush on him; and Pajamaman, a runty little kid who never speaks. In a series of short story arcs over these four volumes, Amelia and her friends fight over the TV, catch fireflies, and wage all-out war on the ninjas a few streets over.
There are many serious moments along with the fun, however. Amelia must face an awkward visit with her father, the prospect of moving yet again, and her mother’s first date. Problems crop up outside the family circle as well; one friend has a life-threatening disease, while another must deal with her father being stationed overseas. Through all this, Amelia’s anchor is her aunt Tanner, a retired rocker whose smirk and belly shirts conceal a great deal of wisdom. Amelia’s mother is loving but a bit scattered; her father is loving but far away; but Tanner is right there, and she gets it.
Amelia herself is a solid kid with good intentions and just enough flaws to be interesting. She can be sensible and wise, but she also gives in to her impulses and goes along with the other kids against her better judgment. Not only does she freely admit her mistakes, but she tells, with great relish, how they lead her into disaster. Creator Jimmy Gownley isn’t afraid to let his characters go all the way to the edge, making comments that cut to the bone or taking a dare that results in a serious injury, but at the end of the day, the children’s universe is solidly grounded in loving families. Not perfect families, but caring ones.
Gownley’s art has a casual, easy look, and he makes full use of the vocabulary of comics, flipping the page sideways when Amelia gets a bit of bad news and juxtaposing dialogue and action in interesting ways. In one scene, Amelia blandly agrees with her mother while her reflection in a nearby mirror gives vent to her true feelings. And in one of the cutest devices in the book, the icon on the front of Pajamaman’s pajamas reflects his emotions.
Amelia Rules! is that rare thing, a truly all-ages comic. Gownley obviously remembers what it feels like to be a child, and his characters act in very real, believable ways. At the same time, he throws in references to Bob Dylan and an extended Scott McCloud sequence for the grownups. In addition, Gownley’s sophisticated storytelling and likeable characters have a universal appeal. Everyone loves a good story, and when the creator can make the reader laugh, or cry, or gasp, “I can’t believe they just did that,” then childhood doesn’t seem so far away any more.