Hill and Wheeler on Encountering Grandpa

Little Golden Books have been around since 1942. They originally sold for 25 cents and are now considered classic staples of childhood. I read them when I was a kid and my son owns a copy of The Poky Little Puppy – probably the most popular book out of the series. The books look essentially the same as they appeared in 1942: a hardback book with the familiar golden metallic spine, decorated with tiny black drawings of cute little animals.

Many of these books have dealt with nature, holidays, fairy tales and nursery rhymes, selling more than a billion and a half books in the series since the brand’s inception. Adults who read these same books as children buy copies for their own kids, evoking with them a strong sense of nostalgia.

It seems, however a new type of children’s book is quickly becoming the new classic standard. Though they may look like a children’s book, these are not for kids. In fact, in many cases, they’re not even for young adults. These are for adults, particularly parents.

Titles such as B is for Beer, All My Friends are Dead and Go the F***k to Sleep, have sold extremely well. Now, BOOM! Studios has entered the mix with the recently published Grandpa Won’t Wake Up. Written by Simon Max Hill with art by two-time Eisner Award winner and New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler, the book is a parody of the Little Golden Books that have filled children’s bookshelves for decades.

And just like Little Golden Books, this Little Boom Book copies the inside cover design as well as the list of suggested reading on the back, with titles that, whether they exist or not, are just as funny as the story inside. If Hill and Wheeler haven’t created them, they need to start.

The story is simple: a boy and a girl try to wake up their grandfather, who had promised to take them to the park. They spend the entire book trying, in very creative and sometimes disturbing ways, to wake him up. As the book progresses, the kids’ methods become increasingly drastic and ridiculous, leaving the reader–depending on his or her stomach for sadistic humor–laughing out loud or covering his or her mouth in embarrassment.

And by saying “drastic and ridiculous”, I mean, my kind of humor. Hill’s writing is clever and never corny. Wheeler’s characters are drawn with a deceptive innocence, which only enhances the book’s ironic take on childhood theatrics.

So, would adults in the 1940s have enjoyed this new trend in adult-humored children’s books? Seeing as how society in general was a bit more, um, reserved at the time (at least that’s the impression it gave) I don’t think books like this would have quite the following they do now, though I’m sure there would have been some fans.

So, why are they gaining popularity now? Could it be that parents of the so-called Generation X and Y age groups generally seem to crave nostalgia-soaked multimedia to, in some way, cling on to our childhood? Perhaps. Pop culture plays an important part in our lives, especially those of us who grew up in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Parodies of childhood toys, cartoons, and books are important because they pay homage to our beloved icons of yesteryear, providing a nice balance between innocence and the more tainted versions of our adult selves; as long as it’s done right. As long as the original source material is respected, no matter how low the parody may go in its jokes, it will work and most adults will appreciate the humor and still fondly reminisce about their favorite childhood, pop culture memories.

Grandpa Won’t Wake Up does just that. There are no life lessons here. There is no happy ending. It’s subtle humor that quickly turns dark, crossing the boundaries of tasteful, which is all part of the fun. It’s not for everyone, certainly. But if you can stomach a dead body and all of the fun, creative things you can do with it, then this one’s for you. Just don’t read it to your kids.

RATING 8 / 10
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