[Outside the Frame] Tony Millionaire’s Wacky Genius is on Display in “Billy Hazelnuts”
Tony Millionaire’s Billy Hazelnuts is a child-like fantasy, at once impossible but also intricately detailed. The story focuses on the love triangle between two children — a young girl inventor and scientist, and a literary boy who first tries to woo her with poetry — and a boy-type creature the mice made out of trash. The mice are hoping for a hero to save them from the woman with the rolling pin. The boy is hoping to learn enough science to make his love poetry more appealing to the object of his affections. The girl mainly wants to be left alone with her work.
Thus begins the story of Billy Hazelnuts, originally called Billy Houseflies, until Becky — our heroine — swaps out his fly-eyes for ones less buzzy. But that happens later. First we see her love of science, of invention, and of space, as she uses a homemade device to view holographic projections of the planets she studies. In her middle-of-nowhere farmhouse bedroom.
Once Billy makes an appearance, Becky has no more time for Eugene (who she’d already kicked out the door) and instead focuses on teaching her fiery trash friend about being a decent person.
The kids use language as if they’re Mark Twain or Shakespeare trapped in the bodies of ten-year-olds, and Millionaire credits their influence in the acknowledgement. Among my favorite lines is:
“I’m a scientist, Eugene, not a starry-headed romantic! I don’t have time for all your versifying and dalliance!” – Becky
But Eugene won’t be thwarted, and turns his new scientific curiosity — which he picked up in order to impress the girl — toward evil. Flying gunships and clockwork animals kind of evil. You know, the fun kind. The kind of evil that, if you have to have a villain thwarting your nascent romance with a angry golem made of trash, you want it to be this.
One of the lovely bits of the story is the devotion to the absurdity of it. No one questions the feasibility of any of the things that happen. All exist in a world where these things, and more, are possible. Talking sheep? Sure, why not. An Old-Testament style Ark with gun-wielding animals lined up two-by-two? Okay!
The story is suited for bright young readers (as well as adults). There’s no sex, no nudity, no romance heavier than a crush, and no swearing either. The course language which peppers the story is a mish-mash of made up insults and 18th century whaling slang. That it is hilariously out-of-date renders it harmless.
The art is woodcut-style black and white line drawings, without a lot of heavy black areas (except for the night sky). I like the lightness of the art, the way it moves, and the many full-page images. You can easily picture Billy Hazelnuts as an animated movie. Tony Millionaire (born Scott Richardson, 1956) is also known for his work on Maakies (a weekly comic), the Eisner-award winning Sock Monkey (published by Dark Horse), and for creating Drinky Crow. He writes and draws his creation, and his artistic style revolves around his use of a fountain pen as his main drawing implement.
What are you waiting for? Go pick up Billy Hazelnuts! (109 pages, hardback. Fantagraphics, 2006)
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Filed under: Outside the Frame
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