It’s a recipe for horror with extra cheese and pepperoni as pizza night at the Poulton household takes a creepy (but delicious) turn. A father-son collaboration that will entertain everyone in the family . . . and maybe make them think twice about an extra stop at Chuck E Cheese or Pizza Hut.
Written by Chase and Mark Poulton
Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Ryan Onorato
Friday nights is pizza night for the Poulton family, the night of the week son Chase looks forward to most – – so much that he wants the fun of pizza night all week. Taking matters into his own hands, he plants a slice of pepperoni in the backyard and the next morning, finds a gloriously large tree of endless pizza. Father and son are thrilled at this new discovery, and Chase becomes the hit of the neighborhood. But when Chase starts acting up more than the normal seven year old, Mom and Dad wonder: does each free slice come with a price?
Every child has a favorite food that they claim they could eat every day if they had the chance. For me, that was vanilla fudge ice cream and my mom’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes. For seven year old Chase Poulton, that food is pizza and Friday nights at the local Pizza Shack are the best night of the week for him. His parents think he’s silly for suggesting that pizza could grow on trees, but Chase knows better. With some magic pepperoni and a pineapple tiki god in the form of a stuffed toy, the Pizza Tree springs forth from the Poulton backyard. Even Dad is sold at first, until the Pizza Tree starts influencing Chase in strange ways. It takes some help from the local comic shop to find out the mystery of the pineapple tiki god (named P’thulhu) and to face down those who control Pizza Tree and get his family back. (Side note: good choice on a pineapple as one of your villains, Mark, because pineapples should never, ever, ever belong on pizza. Fight me, Hawaiian pizza lovers.) Needless to say, the Poultons are going to have to find a new option for Friday night dinner when all is said and done.
As a librarian, and aunt on many levels to various children, I’m always looking for graphic novels that are relatable, fun, and action-packed (without being too violent), for both those new to the genre and existing fans. Also important in this selection process is finding books that will also keep adults entertained, especially if the title is requested again and again (sometimes in the same night). “Pizza Tree” fits all of these to a tee. With Chase helping out his dad on dialogue, the Chase of the story sounds very much like a seven year old, just the right amount of precociousness and innocence. I’m reminded of Dennis the Menace and Curious George when I read Chase’s dialogue: a little bit troublemaker, a little bit curious, and a whole lot of good intentions mixed into one.
Mom and Dad don’t come off as highfalutin or condescending either. Sure, they laugh at their son’s silly notion of pizza growing on trees, but in the loving way that every parent chuckles at their child’s imagination. They even still have a bit of child in themselves, as Mark falls in love with the oak bearing mozzarella and pepperoni at first. There’s also an appropriate level of horror and violence, the worst Pizza Tree can do to Chase is make him bite one of his friends, talk back to his parents, and gorge on slices. It’s scary, but not enough that kids will have nightmares. There are a few places where dialogue veers into slightly corny territory (our comic book guy that helps Mark out with the secret of the pineapple god does have a few moments of what we would call “dad jokes”), but it’s all in good fun and you can’t help but smile when those lines make your children laugh the most.
The same blend of sophistication and simplicity is present in Ryan Onorato’s art. One could create a fantastically detailed antagonist with Lovecraftian influences, but both the tree and the stuffed pineapple god are simply illustrated. They look very much like a tree and a stuffed toy. Pizza Tree’s face is straight off of a jack-0-lantern, and P’thulhu is a pineapple with merely a simple sinister smile and some tentacles. Children will relate to everyday objects being the source of terror. We all remember times when the monster in the closet or under the bed has been nothing more than the shadow of the laundry pile or toys in the corner. That being said, he does take great care to add detail at the right places; one can see every slice on Pizza Tree clear as day.Continued below
Onorato keeps the color palette basic as well, focusing on two colors, yellow for daytime scenes and blue-grey for nighttime scenes (with little touches of yellow-green here and there for nocturnal light). Here again we see that balance of simplicity and sophistication, as he uses shading and texture to add the depth and sophistication without detracting from the plot or his excellent pen and ink work. Lettering is large and consistent, and layouts are straightforward, wonderful ways for children to practice their reading skills.
Outside of the excellent storytelling and artwork, the aspect of “Pizza Tree” that warms my heart the most is that this was a true family effort. Not only did Chase contribute to dialogue, but there’s some concept art for Pizza Tree from his own hand at the very end. It’s a joy to see the love of comics passed down from generation to generation, and you can see the fun and love they both have for the genre and each other in each page. If readers take nothing else from “Pizza Tree” — besides that pineapple should stay in tropical drinks and not on your pizza — it’s the joy of family time in creating a project together. Let’s hope this is the first of many family collaborations for the Poultons.