Okay… I’m old. I was born in 1972, and I don’t have my finger on the pulse of popular culture in the same way that most folks do anymore. (I arrested in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. That’s MY era!) In fact, I’m pretty shielded from a great many things that are part of the collective psyche because I don’t have cable or satellite t.v., and in fact, I spend most of my time reading or writing or drawing, and I only occasionally bother with new t.v. shows—usually when someone shoves a DVD at me and says I have to watch it. And, now that my “kids” are in their 20s and off starting careers and families of their own, I don’t even get that little bit of exposure to animated shows that I used to get when the kids were at home watching t.v. all the time.
What I’m getting at is—as impossible as some of you may find this—I’ve never watched Adventure Time. I don’t know anything about it, other than the fact that my older daughter loves the show. I don’t know what it’s about. I don’t know any of the regular characters, and I don’t even know for sure if it’s a kids’ show, like Spongebob or Pokemon, that my older daughter likes out of some kind of childhood nostalgia, or if it’s an “adult” cartoon, like Family Guy or Archer, that is meant to entertain a more sophisticated (and more sick) viewer. Regardless, my daughter, Frankie, handed me this book and told me that I needed to read it, and that I would really enjoy it! I said that I didn’t know anything about the show, and she assured me that it didn’t matter… So I gave the book a shot. (She’s usually pretty accurate at guessing what I’m going to enjoy…)
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Meredith Gran and others – Adventure Time – Marceline and the Scream Queens (2014)
Right off the bat, I’m going to say this: the book is very nicely designed. The edition I looked at is a hardcover collection, with a really cool embossed cover. The book collects a six-issue mini-series, written and drawn by Meredith Gran with colors by Lisa Moore, and the second half of the book is a series of short stories written and drawn by a variety of folks. And, to add additional value, this book also includes all the covers from the original mini-series, including variants, and a slug of production and concept art. It’s a very cool, comprehensive collection that really shows how dedicated the publisher, KaBOOM!, was to the project.
Beyond just the production values, I have to say I really enjoyed the book. Gran’s artwork is simplified, cartoony, and humorous to look at (reminiscent of James Kochalka or early Marc Hempel), and I found it to be a great vehicle for telling this story. (Although the second half of the book was by various artists, these short bits were also well drawn, in a variety of “indie” cartoony styles, and they were all pretty good, well executed and appropriate to the tales they were telling. The shorts were worth reading, but not the main attraction. The Scream Queens story was definitely the star feature, and Gran’s artwork was excellent. Her facial expressions, though created using just a few lines, were fantastic and very entertaining, exactly what I want in a book like this. (I’m seeing a lot of manga tropes moving into American comic art at this point, which I think is a good thing.)
The story—and again, I’m completely new to Adventure Time and have no idea which characters appear regularly in the cartoon and which were created just for this tale—the story is about a vampire, Marceline, who puts together an indie/punk band of supernatural creatures who go on tour through a number of strangely themed “lands.” Early in the tale, as Marceline performs at the “Candy Castle,” a character named Princess Bubblegum (who I’m guessing is a regular in the show???) becomes enamored with Marceline’s band, and Bubblegum decides that she’s going to put her princess duties on hold so she can go on tour with the Scream Queens as the band’s tour manager. The primary tension in the story comes from Marceline, who wants to be a big star—but also doesn’t want to lose her “punk” cred—and the competition-slash-friendship that develops between Marceline and Bubblegum for control of the band’s direction.
One of the interesting elements of the book is how Marceline deals with her critics, who are ruthless (as critics tend to be.) When she reads a bad review, she turns into a giant rage monster, which is pretty funny. She also has trouble understanding that, despite the critical trashing, her FANS enjoy her performances. To me, this seems like a pretty solid comment on how just about anyone feels who shares their creative work with the world. You tend to ignore the hundreds of people who are happy with your work and hyper-focus on the handful who leave negative comments or down-vote your contributions. Gran nailed it with that one.
Overall, the book is very fun. I enjoy the main story quite a bit, which has a strange paranormal romance side-plot and lots of absurdist weirdness throughout. The second half of the book, which has a definite anthology feel, is also fun, although I’m not familiar with many of the characters in these secondary tales, so I’m pretty sure I missed a lot. The book is still funny, though, even for someone who doesn’t know the characters. I’m assuming, if I knew who these weird creatures are and what they mean to the Adventure Time universe, I would probably have enjoyed the stories even more. (It hasn’t really made me want to watch the t.v. show, though, but I wouldn’t be averse to reading another book in the series, and I would definitely read more work by Meredith Gran.) The tone of this book, overall, really did remind me of the 1990’s and early 2000’s indie humor comic titles that I used to read by folks, such as James Kochalka or Steven Weissman (who did some classic books, like Tykes and Yikes and Champs and stuff…) This book doesn’t really cuss much, preferring to replace cuss words with “lump” or other weird phrases (so you get stuff like “lump yeah!”) In addition, there isn’t any nudity or overt sexual content, so I would argue that the work is probably safe for even middle schoolers to read, but it doesn’t FEEL completely like a kids’ book to me. (Maybe Y.A.? I’m not sure…)
If you’re thinking about reading Marceline and the Scream Queens, it is available on the big A for about $15 bucks in paperback format, or this hardcover edition looks like (as of 13 Dec. 2018) it’s on SALE for less than $25 (USD), although it’s usually closer to $40 bucks when it’s not on sale! (I think my daughter bought the book for about $20 when we were at a cool event, called the I Like Comic Con, in Vancouver, Washington, USA, back in February. We’re looking forward to this years’ event, as well, but as of today, there isn’t any information about when—or IF—it’s going to happen… Only two months away and no word yet on if it’s even going to occur? That’s not a good sign…) (Sorry—a bit of a tangent there…)
And that’s about it for this review! Thanks, Frankie, for another great reading suggestion! (Now I need to read those Joss Wheadon Serenity comics you let me borrow!) If you, dear reader, have any questions about the book I reviewed or any of the names I dropped in the text, let me know! Otherwise, thanks for reading!!!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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