“Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth” hit the shelves this week, offending sensitive parents everywhere. Sometimes, though, the best humor is also the most offensive — have you seen It’s Always Sunny In Philidelphia? Do Kristensen and Perker manage to make us roll over from laughter, or does their new mini solicit no more than a yawn?
Written by Ken Kristensen
Illustrated by M.K. Perker
This series, a collision of comedy, sex, and violence, follows the misadventures of America’s most dysfunctional family as they go head-to-severed head with an Oprah-loving ax murderer, a cult-crazy soap opera star, and a neo-Nazi prison gang.
First issue: Todd wants desperately to make friends, but every kid he approaches winds up decapitated. Or worse. Meanwhile, Todd’s mother is on a mission to get even with her husband who she believes is having an affair.
Let’s start with the good: M.K. Perkers’ artwork is fantastic. The pages and panels he gives us in this first issue perfectly evoke the feeling of the sunday funnies, or of Saturday morning cartoons; thin lines swoop and zig-zag, creating what at first appears to be a playful, whimsical atmosphere. Naturally, though, the world of the ugliest kid on the planet is a twisted, fractured place, and the same cartooning qualities that make the likes of Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes so pure can be subverted to make the crude and the revolting all the more dirty, which Perker harnesses to maximum effect. The neighborhood he draws perfectly depicts the idyllic American dreamland pictures in comic strips and television shows perverted by everything that makes humans flawed, more through his excellent stylistic choices when it comes to faces and body shapes than through the depiction of unsavory matters. While this is far from a horror book, we also see Perker’s work in a similar manner when it comes to the “villain” of the series (well, one of them at least). This shadowy character is made all the more unsettling by only modifying the artistic approach minutely — the fact that he is drawn in a similar style to the rest of the comic’s characters makes him all the more perturbing. It doesn’t hurt Perker’s case that his smooth lines effectively convey motion and expression, and that his pages are always clearly lain out without becoming plain. It’s a damn good looking book, both technically sound and stylistically clever, and deserves immense praise in this regard.
The plot that writer Ken Kristensen has whipped up is engaging enough. Misinformation and miscommunication often result in some of the most entertaining conflict around, whether you’re talking Shakespeare or Arrested Development, and through a clever bait-and-switch, “Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth” is starting on similar tracks. It’s a classic instance of properly utilized dramatic irony: that we know the truth makes us all the more interested in how things are going to end up for poor little Todd, rather than spoils us. The book’s plot is certainly dark, but not so overbearing that it is tiresome (again, at least in terms of plot, but we will get to that later). Kristensen even makes sure that his page space is used wisely, never over-condensing a page with content and yet keeping the story moving. By description, this should be an enjoyable, if twisted, little story — ugly kid inadvertently becomes associated with a series of murders he did not commit — but something just doesn’t click.
The problem is the humor. Now, normally that would be only a minor concern, but this is clearly meant to be a very dark comedy book, and so its importance is amplified. This is a sort of Mark Millar’s “Unfunnies” situation: Kristensen is pulling the glamour back from what would otherwise be the sunny suburbs, showing it to be a twisted, screwed-up place and playing it up for laughs. Don’t take the comparison to Millar’s worst work to be one of quality; it’s more a matter of similar tone and themes. While Kristensen isn’t quite failing to accomplish this, as Millar did with his most derided work, though, it still seems like a case of trying too hard in some points. This is a brand of humor that is designed to shock and to provoke, but it isn’t quite clear why. I am not claiming that comedy needs a “point” — heaven forbid — but there’s nothing particularly clever or new about, say, a man going on a rant about how not-Barbies are the devil because they give him an erection. Black comedy’s simultaneous strength and weakness is that brings us outside of our comfort zone, and so if it doesn’t hit the nail on the head, it just comes across as… well, lame (or offensive, but we are all grown up here and don’t believe in such things, right?). There’s no middle ground like there is with more conventional humor, and so humorists take a gamble in taking the darker road. In this case, unfortunately it seems like Kristensen got snake eyes, and rather than coming off as cutting edge and witty, he just seems pedestrian.
The thing with judging humor objectively is that… well, it isn’t objective. Sure, every form of art is beheld subjectively, but there’s something about the nature of humor that makes it very much a person-by-person thing. Have you ever tried explaining why Louis C.K. is funny to your mom? Try it sometime. As such, even though I found “Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth” to be about as funny as me in middle school (hint: not very), I cannot lambast it too much. Even though it’s a comedy, it has a well thought-out plot, which many comedies let fall on the wayside, and excellent art. If the solicit text intrigues you, don’t let my numeric rating dissuade you — if the comedy clicks for you, everything else most certainly will. As for me, though, I can’t say I’ll be revisiting Kristensen and Perker’s bag-headed child any time soon.
Final Verdict: 5.5 – Very much a your mileage may vary situation.