From the vault: The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby
Note: This review originally appeared in issue #263 of The Comics Journal
“The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby: The First Graphic Novel”
By Dav Pilkey
Scholastic Press $4.99
Why oh why oh why can’t more children’s comics – hell, more comics in general – be as witty, off-the-wall and as gloriously silly as this slight little book? Yes, it’s yet another superhero parody, and yes, as you’ve no doubt guessed from the title, it’s filled with the sort of scatological humor that seems to pervade every aspect of the entertainment world these days until the lowest common denominator has hit negative numbers. And yes, some of the jokes are on the same level as the Bennett Cerf riddle books you used to own as a child (only about poop). So what? “Super Diaper Baby” (a phrase I never thought I’d write in a review) is so thoroughly charming, so cheerfully offensive, so delightfully childish that only the most tight-lipped, blue-nosed, knee-jerk reactionary would be completely immune to its appeal.
Anyone with a child between the ages of nine and 12 (or even a casual interest in kids’ books) should be familiar with Dav Pilkey, as he is the creator of the immensely popular Captain Underpants series. In this spin-off comic, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, two holdovers from the Underpants books, pen the origin of Super Diaper Baby in an ultimately futile attempt to get out of their detention homework. Their story within the story, meanwhile, tells of . . . well, suffice it to say there’s this baby who gains super powers. His nemesis is Deputy Dangerous, who accidentally gets turned into fecal matter. And then there’s Deputy’s sidekick, Danger Dog, who’s just into the whole evil thing for the kibbles. He ends up getting super powers too, and . . . OK, I’m going to stop now.
The Captain Underpants series has dabbled in comics before, but only as short interludes to the main story. This is (as far as I can tell) Pilkey’s first full-length attempt at comics, and he does a good job keeping the action and the humor moving along at a brisk pace. No one would ever confuse his work with Chris Ware, or even Carl Barks, but that’s sorta the point. Since the book is supposed to be drawn by two grade school kids, Pilkey adopts a crude style, but he uses it to his advantage, parodying the inexpressive anatomy and simplistic features you see so often in children’s art. He also pokes fun at their desire when telling stories to get to the good parts and avoid the smaller details that often aid in the telling. (“Deputy Dangerous and Danger Dog went straight to jail. But then they escaped.”) Even though he’s obviously a better artist than the average nine-year-old is, “Super Diaper Baby” feels like kids drew it, perhaps the best compliment I can give Pilkey.
No doubt there are plenty of parents and other adult figures out there that will boycott a book like this based on its content alone. Some might even object to the frequent and deliberate misspellings in the book, fearful that it would encourage bad penmanship from its readers. That’s a shame since the idea of a villain made out of poop is more offensive and disgusting than anything Pilkey does with the concept. And I’d like to think that most young readers would know that you don’t spell pursuit with two “o”s.
The fact is, “Super Diaper Baby” is too eager to please, too busy taking delight in its own impishness to be agitated by it. The book has a manic energy, a spark of goofy joy that puts it high above most of the comics I’ve read this year in terms of pure reading pleasure. And then there’s the fact that it’s really funny. Besides, any comic that contains the phrase “Don’t forget to boycott standardized testing” has already gone a long way to winning me over.
Labels: kids comics