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posted June 2, 2009
Image, softcover, 128 pages, May 2009, $12.99
It'd be easy to hate Doug Tennapel's work on principle alone. The vast majority of his books seem shamelessly oriented towards being purchased as development properties by film and television studios. What distinguishes Tennapel is that he's a cartoonist/author (not the more typical writer looking to push his way into Hollywoood's side door with the artist thrown in as a near-afterthought), he has a natural and attractive cartooning style, and he seems genuinely interested in the pitch-able ideas he presents in these works. In Power Up
we get what is essentially a high-concept 1980s/1990s film comedy on paper. A struggling game designer finds a way to bring elements of an older videogame system to bear on his own life: Tennapel's twist isn't that only the characters push their way into the real world but so do the money tokens, the force fields and the life-rejuvenating tablets. It's one of those things where you know you haven't seen this exact take on the idea but you're also baffled that no one's thought to present it this way just yet.
The downside is that all of this fun dressing is hanging on a framework of heartwarming values and sweetness and a softening of the economic distress portrayed that doesn't feel near as imaginative as the videogame flourishes. It doesn't feel earned, really. Without a compelling connection between the crazed goings-on and the fundamental structure of our narrator's life other than that they bump up against one another, there's just not that fundamental click of elements into place that comes with a great mainstream entertainment of this type. Without a story that satisfies as well as entertains, it doesn't matter how genial the work is, or how well Tennapel can draw a cat.