The Red Balloon vs. The Inflatable Boy: Joe Hill’s POP ART

'that kid is fucked' - Red Balloon

‘that kid is fucked’ – Red Balloon

After reading Joe Hill’s ‘Pop Art’, included in the fine collection ‘American Fantastic Tales‘ (edited by Peter Straub), I must say there isn’t a finer modern fantasy story about the fragility of childhood; how the imagination disintegrates as those angst-filled teenage years rapidly approach, and how the hard realities shape youthful idealism into something bruised and unnecessary, yet full of despair and panic.

popartMasterfully done, Hill weaves both the absurdist and sentimental approaches to the childhood ‘coming of age’ tale. Like the boy (as we said back in the day, ‘that French kid‘) and his Red Balloon in the 1956 film, the ‘inflatable boy’ at the heart of this story symbolizes a means of escape – whether one sees it as suicide or enlightenment, that’s up for debate. Also up for debate is whether the inflatable boy is imaginary, or a freak of reality; or even a potential parable to a victim to Osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). Either way, this story should be taught to children, read by adults, and analyzed for its imaginative power, narrative flow, and oddly tender heart.

Read the story first, and then check out this short film:

And hell, why not make a mini-film class of it…….here’s ‘The Red Balloon’ too:


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