Now consider the armadillo. In the great metaphorical zoo of entertainment, there’s room for a wide variety of animals. For those people who enjoy their comedy to be on the black side or at least more “adult”, look no further than the bat enclosure or the anteater pen (check out that proboscis!). And of course if you’ve brought the kids along, they’ll want to make a beeline to the petting zoo of comedy, or more appropriately for this extended metaphor, they should visit the tortoises (fairly amiable with a tough shell made of innocence and censors).
But for this article, we’ll be focusing on the middle ground, the armadillos of entertainment. Armadillos still have the safety shell, the layer of innocence, but there are chinks in the armour that give us a peek of something deeper. It’s certainly not easy, being an armadillo. They walk a thin tightrope, constantly in danger of teetering towards either immaturity or adulthood. A successful example would be the output of the Pixar studio, films with a strong-enough story to hook adults and children alike, with laughs catering to both camps.
Let me just say right now, the Adventure Time show and now the tie-in comics are utterly glorious armadillos. Adventure Time follows the 13 year-old hero Finn, his best friend Jake the magical dog, and their many exciting, zany adventures in the fantastical Land Of Ooo. Rescuing princesses, fighting evil monsters, exploring daunting mazes and forgotten caverns, on the surface it appears to be a fun, simple concept, ideal for rowdy youngsters. But look closer, watch with adult eyes, and it becomes clear that there’s a lot of hidden depth, especially emotional depth in the character interactions.
In the comic, writer Ryan North has taken all the very best ideas from the show, mixed them with his own, managed to keep the voices of the familiar characters intact, and continually churns out page after page of pure joy. What I love about North’s writing is that it’s inherently obvious that he is having the time of his life creating these comics, with this creative team. And when he’s having fun, we the readers have fun! Not only that, North uses the comic pages, the medium itself, to its fullest potential. Little jokes and commentary in the margins, playful “extra panel” asides at the bottom of certain pages, the glorious “choose your own adventure” standalone issue and it’s playful experimentation with the fourth wall… put simply, Ryan North’s armadillo does wonderful tricks!
But we mustn’t give Mr North all the glory! The regular artists Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb consistently make every page shine, successfully inhabiting the whimsical yet deceptively detailed design of the Adventure Time world. I love their artistic versatility; able to pull off a subtle style change to reference the much-simpler animated pilot episode during a bout of time travel shenanigans, and the pixel art of a recent video-game-centric issue was a joy to behold. The eye popping colour and silly facial expressions may not be what many “serious” comic readers are used to, but to me it’s like a great big chocolate pudding of fun and I’m one of too few people with a spoon.
Generously, the shorter back-up stories in each comic are often on par with or even surpass the main story, and are provided by a host of diverse creative types who want to get in on a good thing when they see it. Comic book pros such as Paul Pope, Shannon Wheeler, and Chris Houghton have all answered the call, as have the wide network of Ryan North’s webcomic buddies (who all seem to be friends with each other) like Anthony “Nedroid” Clark, Zack “Magical Game Time” Gorman, and Becky “Tiny Kitten Teeth” Dreistadt. The results are breathtakingly different in both art and story, but they all manage to stay true to the ethos of “fun” that this comic emanates like a wonderful odour.
Let me just wrap up by advising you all to pick up this comic. It’s like a tightrope-walking circus-trick-performing armadillo that tastes of chocolate pudding and smells gorgeous. But better.
Todd Marsh has doubts about his own sanity after writing this article.