Greta is a handful. She rips the heads off her dolls, lashes out at the other kids at her school, and tries her weary parents’ patience. But with the help of a dapper tortoise named NoBody, Greta softens her grumpy ways. Having learned her lesson, Greta must now team up with her new friend Gabby and their shelled companion to solve a strange mystery: Why have the kindhearted denizens of Friendlytown suddenly become so mean? And what can they do to make Friendlytown friendly again? In NoBody Likes You, Greta Grump Eisner Award-nominated cartoonist Cathy Malkasian conjures a fully-realized fantasy world cast with an array of colorful characters including tech whiz cats, ornery gopher librarians, and gangs of squirrels in matching sweater vests. Equal parts high-flying adventure and deeply felt allegory, this middle grade graphic novel is all heart.
NoBody Likes You, Greta Grump Reviews!
Another fable that rhymes with our troubled time is Cathy Malkasian’s NOBODY LIKES YOU, GRETA GRUMP (Fantagraphics, $16.99), a meditation on meanness and othering that like “The Lost Soul” is an appealingly bibliophilic book (my favorite scene occurs at the workplace of a gopher librarian named Marjarie, who twice impresses upon her audience the need to wear white gloves while handling the oldest book in their collection: “Historical Atlas of Ill Winds and Sour Moods”).
Malkasian, a cartoonist and animator, sets her middle grade graphic novel in an unspecified city that looks Parisian and has a bit of a punky Jean-Pierre Jeunet vibe. It stars a cruel child who is befriended by a dapper tortoise as the two set out to investigate why neighboring Friendlytown has suddenly turned markedly mean, a sharp turn of events in which one cannot help seeing reflected some of the cognitive dissonance produced by our current political landscape.
“Greta Grump” manages to feel fresh, addressing a range of issues — some directly, some obliquely — such as adoption, immigration and even how food signifies difference. The cast of characters is diverse throughout; Greta presents white, and was adopted by brown-skinned parents. Stylishly and loosely drawn in color, the book gets philosophical when it acknowledges that treating people with kindness does not always make them nice to you. Known for its stable of edgy adult comics, Fantagraphics has successfully expanded its range with Malkasian’s savvy tale.
Greta is a very obstreperous child. She throws food, is mean to just about everyone, and has exhausted her parents to the point they fall asleep at dinner. They have tried everything, including renting her every kind of pet imaginable, but she rejects them one after another. Until, that is, they bring home a turtle from the pet rental. Greta and the turtle (named Nobody) get into a shouting match, but Nobody stays right with Greta and doesn’t give any ground. Surprisingly, Greta asks him to stay. In the morning, he takes her to a rather magical land where they have some interesting and sometimes difficult travels. It’s there she discovers a lot about what makes people unhappy, including herself. But can any of this change things for Greta?
Cathy Malkasian has written a very engaging graphic novel for the youngest of middle-grade readers. The artwork is great with lots of fun details in every frame. The characters are fully formed and quirky. Greta is irreverent and smart, and Nobody is the perfect foil for her. The story is fanciful and funny with a touch of fantasy. Emerging readers and reluctant readers will especially love this book.
©AJ O. Mason
NOBODY LIKES YOU, GRETA GRUMP!, out on February 23rd from Fantagraphics, is a middle-grade graphic novel by cartoonist Cathy Malkasian. It is a beautiful, incredibly sweet graphic novel. I recommend it to anyone in any age group, especially for those looking to fall in love with new characters and tear up in the process.
Malkasian’s writing is really interesting to pick apart. You would think that, as a book aimed at children, the language wouldn’t be too complicated for anyone to understand. But Malkasian gives one of the main characters in this book a “posh” personality. It’s a pet turtle talking in a way that resembles old English mixed with dialects from well-known fantasy books you probably read as a kid. Already, what’s there not to love? But worry not, because every time the turtle says a word Greta hasn’t heard yet, he explains the word to her beautifully and simplistically in a way that makes sense to young kids and plays on adults’ heartstrings due to the ingenious, fabulous ways those words we’ve taken for granted for so long are explained and dissected.
Malkasian takes each main character (and even each supporting character) on an emotional arc that never ceases to amaze in its honesty. Especially the main character, Greta Grump, goes through an arc I never thought I would be able to relate to. Malkasian introduces Greta to the readers as her “last” name suggests- as a grumpy, annoying bully. But as the story progresses, we learn to fall in love with Greta and learn about her past and what makes her act the way she acts. You just start melting and crying as you witness her transformation from a bully to a kind, brave kid. Absolutely top-notch work from Malkasian. It made me an instant fan of her storytelling.
At some important moments in this book which I will not spoil, the art was so honest and true to the moment and feeling Malkasian was trying to convey, I cried (!). Multiple times. The faces and the way Malkasian draws the characters and the world makes it clear that it’s a book for youngsters. The art’s feel and look is very kid-friendly. But for the adults reading this book, if you look close enough you could find (I kid you not) trippy elements to the art.
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Most importantly though, the acting in this book is what truly steals the show. Instead of changing angles and shot types from panel to panel, Malkasian sometimes lingers on the moment a little longer to see how her characters act and move from one beat to another. Sometimes, this alone tells us all we need to know about the characters and their personality.
If none of this convinces you to give this book a shot, I want to leave you with this one last attempt. The last two pages in this book are the most beautiful, fulfilling pages I’ve seen from a comic’s ending in probably forever. And you’ll only be able to appreciate it and enjoy it if you read this book. So, what do you have to lose? It’s only 120 pages!
As a first time reader of middle-grade graphic novels, I’ll be the first to admit I went in skeptical. I wasn’t able to imagine enjoying a graphic novel aimed at children. I thought this graphic novel was probably going to deal with way less complicated matters and that I wouldn’t be able to relate to it in any way emotionally. But boy oh boy, I am so glad I was foolishly wrong.
NoBody Likes You, Greta Grump! came at exactly the right time for me. It dealt with things I haven’t even encountered before in such a gorgeous, direct way. I couldn’t help but fall in love with this book.
© DW McKinney
Isolation can be our own doom — we’re left with our clamoring insecurities. On our own, our distorted sense of self can leave us writhing in pain. But human interaction nourishes us. It also provides a reflection pool for how we perceive ourselves. And that self-perception has the power to break us or sustain us. If we wield our self-perception like a cudgel, we will bludgeon anyone who gets too close, upending our chances for connection before they even begin.
It’s a lesson that Cathy Malkasian teaches with grace and whimsy in NoBody Likes You, Greta Grump (Fantagraphics, February 2021). Greta is a little girl who clubs those closest to her over the head with her loneliness and insecurities. Her parents adopt various pets to appease her, but Greta brutalizes each one. The last pet her parents gift her is a gentlemanly tortoise named NoBody who does not suffer Greta’s bullying.
NoBody’s blunt correction, filtered through a dapper and sharp-witted affectation, elicits the root of Greta’s combative attitude: While the other kids at school look like their parents, Greta doesn’t look like hers. Thus, Greta doesn’t believe she fits in anywhere. It’s a heartbreaking and sincere confession that immediately humanizes her.
NoBody and Greta go on to have an intercity adventure that’s wholesome, fun, and speaks to the power of adopted and found families. Malkasian combines dynamic storytelling with delightful illustrations to render big emotions in small spaces. You will smile until your cheeks hurt. You might even shed a few tears too. Without sermonizing, Malkasian also weaves in lessons on kindness, the compound effects of reckless urban development, and competitiveness. There’s no doubt that NoBody Likes You, Greta Grump is a proper allegory for our time.
One of the charming aspects of this middle-grade novel is that in the end, Greta figures out a key problem on her own without help from NoBody and her new friend. She does it through her own agency. In fact, despite the abundant secondary characters, the novel is about Greta’s change, her power, her life.