Amelia Rules!: What Makes You Happy
What Makes You Happy, the second book in the Amelia Rules! series, features a story in which a music magazine does a cover feature on Amelia’s Aunt Tanner, and Amelia becomes the center of attention for the wrong reasons. She isn’t very comfortable with this popularity by proxy, nor does she understand why Tanner isn’t more excited about the recognition. Amelia isn’t ready to deal with the idea of her aunt as a “hottie” or the adult reasons that Tanner gave up her music career.
Her spotlight deals with the bigger theme of creating for the joy of it (or the need to) opposed to the demands of commercial art. The questions surrounding artists, sell-outs, geniuses, and all the other judgmental designations that go along with them are still hotly debated, and it isn’t surprising to see them included in a comic. What is pleasantly astounding is how well the subject is presented for an all-ages audience by Jimmy Gownley. As Amelia learns about the pros and cons of one’s art becoming popular, so do the readers. Not every question is answered, but we’re given enough information to draw our own conclusions. There’s also a lot of sympathy here for those who live in the public eye, whether it’s their choice or not.
Amelia also comes face-to-face with the difference between boys and girls when she gets her first kiss, although the majority of that story is about how she deals with the death of a great-aunt she never really knew. Her mom and aunt’s memories are visualized as twists on well-known comic characters and strips. Gownley’s mimicry is fascinating, adding another level to the story.
Beyond the graphic invention, there’s clever insight (“I think a lot of the important things in life you only learn by screwing up”), hilarious parody (the list of book titles kids with divorcing parents are given), the aforementioned first kiss and its aftermath, and a wide gamut of real emotion, including loss, envy, hope for a perfect outfit, and feeling totally out of your league.
Another story has the cast visiting New York and Amelia’s father. Amelia gets a chance to catch up with her former best friend, who shares embarrassing stories with her new friends, as old friends are wont to do. Meanwhile, Tanner and Amelia’s dad also catch up.
Flashback pages are done with comic strip allusions on a yellowed background, as though they were ripped from an aged newspaper. It’s an elegant way to use the medium uniquely. Peanuts and Doonesbury strips symbolize certain stages of our lives, and Gownley draws similar versions with his characters to show the reader what kind of people they were in the past. It’s an amazing use of the full potential of the comic medium.
Amelia Rules! contains funny takes on kids’ adventures, but the stories aren’t shallow. The emotions are adult, although the stories cause the reader to temporarily forget about the downsides of being young, just as Amelia’s adventures let her put aside her worries.
As the kids become more developed as characters (which means that their traits are also becoming more known to the reader), the description of this book as “a modern Peanuts” becomes more accurate. Like that classic strip, these kids act as kids, but their interaction reveals more than we may like about society and human nature. There’s a lot of insight, for example, in Rhonda and Amelia simultaneously being good friends and hating each other’s guts (especially when it comes to Reggie). Adults can’t feel so simply and accept such contradiction as well.
I have previously reviewed the first book, The Whole World’s Crazy. There’s an additional six-issue storyline (not yet collected) called “Superheroes”, about the possibility of Amelia’s family moving away from her friends. It introduces new groups of characters, including a young girl who dreams of telling her stories as a writer. For Free Comic Book Day 2005, a zero issue was released, with the story of how the gang first met.