My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Well, this was a nice little treat…. That being said, I’ve never reviewed a graphic novel before, so bear with me. I feel I should also make readers aware of spoilers in this review, not just from the graphic novel, but also concerning the show the stories are based on, Gravity Falls. If you haven’t watched the show, I highly recommend you leave this review, watch the show in its entirety, and then come back. It will help this review to make more sense, and I won’t have spoiled anything because you’ll already know what I’m talking about, or at least have a basic idea.
All that said, let’s get right into it.
The book opens with one of the gnomes from the series, Shmebulock, giving background for what the reader is about to encounter. He speaks intelligently, unlike in the show, due to a curse that he is kind enough to tell us about, where he can only speak intelligently every thousand years on a full moon. He also lays the foreground for the stories he will tell about the Pines family, while also reminding the reader to keep a sharp eye out for clues, much like the way the show would hide codes and messages in the background to hint at its overarching storyline and have fans work to uncover the mystery. I’ll get into some of the codes in a bit.
The first story Shmebulock tells is a story called “Face It.”
When Stanford goes off to hunt the Mothman, he leaves his research in Dipper’s care. Once Ford leaves, Pacifica Northwest shows up at the door, asking Dipper to help her get rid of a wrinkle on her face by using magic in time for a family photo shoot. When Dipper refuses to allow her access to the Journals, Pacifica asks to use their powder room, and sneaks up to the attic to peek in the Journals for help. She ends up summoning a monster that moves to steal her face, but Dipper and Mabel run upstairs when Dipper sees a glowing door. They distract the monster, resulting in him accidentally taking Mabel’s face instead, leaving just her body. Dipper and Pacifica then leave the body and chase after the monster to get Mabel’s face back, coming across an underground magic black market, where Pacifica reveals that she’s not sure who she really is without her looks and that she is under tremendous pressure from her parents to maintain her image. They find the face monster at the market, who takes Dipper’s face and tempts Pacifica with beauty, threatening to make her ugly if she fights him. Pacifica manages to get past him and get both Dipper and Mabel back, and they make a run for it, eventually being cornered in an outhouse. Luckily, Mabel’s body manages to lead Ford to the outhouse, and he freezes the monster before the kids can be harmed. Mabel’s face is put back, while Pacifica accepts that, while she may not be perfect, she’s still herself. The story ends with Pacifica posing proudly, all dirtied and bruised from the adventure, for the photo shoot with her parents.
I really enjoyed this story. I’ve had something of a soft spot for Pacifica since her family situation was revealed on the show, and I like how, underneath the supposed shallowness of her character, there is a genuinely good person who just wants to understand who she is as a person. A lot of adolescents struggle with issues involving identity and self-image and, given her background, it was nice to see Pacifica overcome her demons and learn to be herself. Not to mention that the story was really funny. I particularly enjoyed this little joke at the end where Pacifica sees Ford for the first time and, not realizing that he’s not the Stan she knows, really gets a good look at him.
Needless to say, I had a pretty good laugh at that one. Well played, Hirsch. Well played.
The next story is called “Comix Up.” It opens with the Mystery Shack handyman, Soos Ramirez, coming to the shack to show Dipper and Mabel his comic book collection. Mabel has fun using white-out to edit the dialogue of the comics to make the story her own when Stan comes in and sees the comics. He gets angry and locks them away in a special chest in Ford’s room. The next day, Stan notices that there is a dialogue box narrating him. Annoyed and angry at the narrator of the story, Stan goes to Ford for help, only for Ford to remember that the chest his brother locked the comics in was cursed. They go in to find that the chest wants to punish Stan for “insulting the medium of the graphic novel” and pulls him into one of the graphic novels he locked in the chest. Ford gets Wendy, Soos, and the kids together to go rescue Stan, and they use magic to enter the book. They end up traveling through all different kinds of stories of different styles and plots, until finally they enter the superhero comic Mabel used the white-out on earlier. A fight breaks out, ending when one of the opposing side uses a grenade to blast the Pines out of the story. Soos ends up being blown into the margins of the comic and hears Stan crying nearby. Climbing over the margin, he finds Stan in a comic called “Lil’ Stanley,” where Stan is selling copies of the story they’re in as punishment for his earlier actions. He admits that he used to love comics and reveals that he tried to sell his “Lil’ Stanley” comic only for it to be rejected. His bad luck with comics, as well as a fistfight he had with Stan Lee in 1973, cements his animosity toward the graphic novel. That confession made, Stan yells out to the narrator that he loves comics, but the narrator won’t let him go until he calls it a “graphic novel.” Stan refuses, and the comic narrator threatens both him and Soos with a “graphic” death. Wendy rips at the paper with her axe before this can happen, though, saving them. Enraged, the narrator threatens to keep them trapped forever, only for Mabel to use her white-out to end the narration. They return to the real world where Stan sells his childhood comic, and a kid picks it up, allowing Stan to fully embrace the medium again.
While not my favorite story in the book, I still found “Comix Up” really hysterical. “Gravity Falls” really only broke the fourth wall in one situation in the main series, so seeing a story like this was really fresh. I loved how the characters interacted with their setting in the first comic, such as Dipper stealing his hat from the frame below him and his character in that frame going, “Hey!” as Dipper realizes he’s holding two hats. I also found Ford’s jokes (what few there were, as he tends to be more of the straight man) to be really funny, such as how he described Stanley: “Looks like me if I gave up on life”! I also liked how, after the later fight and Soos got blown out of the margins, how he commented on the Disney logo, resulting in one of the funniest fourth wall breaks I’ve ever seen. I like how the story ends with Stan successfully selling his comic and the kid buying it is interested because it has swearing in it while being for kids. It’s such a funny jab at Stan’s character that it’s actually satisfying to see the kid buy it, helping to restore his confidence in his comics.
The next story is one of my favorites in the collection. “Don’t Dimension It” opens with the Pines family walking in the forest, just after the events of Weirdmageddon, looking for dimensional rips left over from the rift to patch with adhesive. When Mabel brings her pet pig Waddles along, he escapes his carrier and she runs after him, only to be pulled into another dimension after doing so. She ends up in a dimension called Mab-3l, where there is every possible version of herself, when she meets one that she thinks is “Anti-Label Mabel” (because the double won’t let the dimensional beings name her). When the clone traps Mabel in an outhouse, however, Mabel realizes that the clone is the anti-version of herself and is therefore evil. Mabel watches as Stan and Ford come in and rescue the clone by mistake. Mabel escapes and manages to get the other Mabels to help her stop the evil twin. Back on the ship Stan and Ford are on, Ford realizes that the Mabel they took was not the real one. Before he can kill her, however, the evil clone traps them in glass tubes. Mabel breaks in with every clone from Mab-3l, and a battle breaks out. As Mabel and her evil twin square off, the Stan twins are freed from their prison by a friendly clone named Three-bel. When Mabel manages to expose the evil twin as a fake, Stan and Ford trap her in the tube, and Mabel hits the eject button. Mabel returns to Gravity Falls with her uncles and apologizes to Dipper for being selfish over the summer, and the story ends with the family walking home.
Why do I feel like Hirsch wrote this story because he saw the “Mabel is Terrible” video that was posted online? Regardless of whether he did or didn’t, I still really enjoyed this story. I liked how, in the opening, Stan and Ford are arguing over who’s the more responsible caretaker. It’s a really good joke, and their expressions really help to cement the comedic impact. I honestly couldn’t stop laughing at the interaction, because I thought Stan had known Dipper’s name. The fact that Dipper has grown to trust Ford enough to tell him something like that, but not tell Stan, surprised me, but it also made for comedic gold.
Moving on to Mab-3l, seeing all the different versions of Mabel was cute (with the exception of Stanbel, which was honestly just disturbing, but it is a Gravity Falls story, so there’s bound to be some disturbing things, I guess). I also need to give mention to the fact that, given how Stan thought his brother didn’t know anything about Mabel, Ford is the one to catch on to the fact that something’s not right. I particularly enjoyed that he played it cool in front of her, but you can see that he’s reaching for his gun as he’s talking to her! And I thought I couldn’t love Ford as a character any more than I already did!
There’s one more little joke I want to give mention to before I move on. It’s funny because it reveals once and for all that Ford and Stan really aren’t so different after all. They hailed a bus/ship to go after Mabel, but the driver recognizes Ford as a criminal. Stan’s reaction to this, as well as what he and the driver decide to do with him, is hysterical in every sense of the word. Ford’s face throughout the whole thing completely sold it, too.
The final story in the book is “Pines Bros Mystery: The Jersey Devil’s in the Details.” This story centers around the Stan twins in their childhood. Stan and Ford are out on the beach in their hometown of Glass Shard Beach, New Jersey, playing and talking about hunting down the mysterious Jersey devil, when their father Filbrick screams out in anger from the house. When the kids go in, they learn that their father’s gold chain had been stolen, and he suspects that Stanley did it. When Ford covers for his brother, Filbrick orders that they go out and find it, and if they can’t, they’re both grounded indoors for the rest of the summer. The twins believe that the Jersey Devil got ahold of Filbrick’s chain, and they set off to find it. Just as they’re getting started, they run into “The Sibling Brothers” who are on the same case after finding Filbrick’s poster. Stan also introduces Ford to his pet “Shanklin the stab possum” (a possum with a knife tied to its back) that he thinks can help them find the devil. The kids are up against the rival set of twins to find the devil, who ultimately beat them to solving the case, since they have photographers all over town who get them the answers to the cases they set out to solve. But when they find out that Stanley is the one who stole the gold chain and are chased out of the cave they’re in by the real Jersey devil, the Sibling Brothers trap it and give Ford a choice: if he hands over the proof of his brother’s guilt, they’ll let him take credit for discovering the paranormal beast – if not, the boys will frame both Stan and Ford for the theft. Ford, deciding to stand with Stanley, lets Shanklin loose, who sets the Jersey devil free from its trap, causing the Sibling Brothers to fall into a dunking pool. Stan and Ford escape to safety, ultimately being grounded for the rest of the summer after Stan confesses to taking Filbrick’s chain.
The novel ends with Shmebulock hinting at a secret message in the graphic novel just before the sun rises and he returns to his prison of silence.
I have to admit, this last story brought a tear to my eye. Not because it ended on an entirely sentimental note, but rather because we move on to see the Stan twins having adventures on the Stan O’ War II together. Hirsch sure knows how to wrap things up. The story itself was really rather adorable. It was so nice to see Stan and Ford as kids again and get a glimpse of their early life together, as brief as that glimpse was. I liked how, even as children, their polar-opposite personalities really shone through in the story. Hirsch was meticulous in making sure these characters acted like themselves, even though the show ended over two years ago. I think what’s so wonderful about this particular story is that it communicates a pretty simple, yet tremendously powerful, message about standing up for what you think is right, no matter what other people think of you for doing so. A touching final story to wrap up this little gem of a graphic novel.
And, come on. I can’t be the only one who thinks that the Stan twins were absolutely adorable as kids. Just look at those innocent little faces!
Before I wrap up this review, I want to talk a little bit about some of the codes scattered throughout the book. Anyone who knows Gravity Falls knows that these codes can often be hidden in the background… or they can be right in front of you. I had to scour the pages for some of them, but it was fun doing it. There were quite a lot of them, so I’ll just focus on a few that I found…. interesting, to say the least.
The biggest ones concern the axolotl, which any fan of Gravity Falls knows is the creature Bill calls out to as he’s dying. The first one I found translates to “WHERE’S YOUR AXOLOTL NOW?” in Bill’s symbol substitution cipher. I mention it because I was fairly shocked once I had decoded it. Could Bill be mocking Dipper or Ford from the grave? Might he not actually be in a grave? Did he somehow escape his ultimate fate? What are you trying to tell us, Hirsch?
It gets better. Two codes that I found on the bus Stan and Ford take in the third story translate to “I DIDN’T VOTE FOR BILL” and “THE AXOLOTL IS MY COPILOT.” Could this bus driver know what really happened to Bill? And what’s all this about voting? Is Hirsch making a reference to the 2016 election or something? I know the man hates the current president. Could he be comparing Bill to Donald Trump?
I just want to give a quick mention to the code on the side of the “Table of Contents” page before I wrap this up. I didn’t translate it, but I did find the translations online. I will say that the decoded messages are nice little Easter eggs from both the Complete Series DVD set and the graphic novel. Special thanks to the Gravity Falls community on Twitter for bringing this matter to light.
All in all, I really think this book is an absolute must-have for any Gravity Falls fan who is aching for more about the Pines family. It’s fun, it’s creative, and it really can get you thinking over all the little hints scattered throughout the book, resulting in a really enjoyable experience trying to solve the mysteries it contains. Well done, Hirsch.
I swear, no one in this family uses the front door!