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King Aroo Vol. 1
posted February 16, 2010
 

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Creator: Jack Kent
Publishing Information: IDW, hardcover, 360 pages, 2010, $39.99
Ordering Numbers: 1600105815 (ISBN10), 9781600105814 (ISBN13)

The wonderful thing about this first volume of Jack Kent's King Aroo is for that as much as readers may be bowled over by its general loveliness and cowed by the cartoonist's skill with Pogo-style interrelationships as early as a few months in, the lingering memory is how much a certain kind of amateurishness graced this strip in its early days. In his long introduction for the volume, Bruce Canwell describes a family that I think he accurately describes as a kind of precursor to modern bohemian households, settling in Texas for opportunities that simply weren't available in the Upper Midwest. We meet Jack Kent not as a precocious artist but a full-fledged comics fan, cheekily sidling up to his idols in the pursuit of free art, aware of a small network of fervent fellow collectors through which to pad out what he's missing. His is a familiar presence. One can easily see a college-aged Kent descending on an FDR-era SPX, or trading barbs in a late '40s letter circle set up to act like the Comics Journal message board.

The strip itself benefits from its creator's fannish outlook: Kent could draw funny pictures from Day One, and seems to favor that activity over making fluent comics progressions in the style of Walt Kelly. King Aroo I think is frequently more engaging for that orientation, easier to parse, full of eye candy without being an extended tribute to the fluid nature of comic strips built from an animated tradition. It's a strip for every comics fan that preferred the earlier, rougher works of a cartoonist that eventually become frighteningly accomplished and slick. This is doubly important in that Kent's characters are generally but not uniquely memorable; it's not a strip from which anyone remembers this character or that one. Its strength are more about the satisfying general milieu and the sheer number of folks going about their funny business. I'm so glad this book exists. Like D&Q's work with the Moomin comics, it's hard to remain skeptical and to pick at nits when diving into one of the largely dormant, undiscovered and hugely rich comics worlds of the last 75 years. That it's realized by a fan of the form with an eye towards what he himself might have enjoyed, well, that's a bonus.