Sunday, December 14, 2008

From the vault: Tiny Tyrant


Note: This review originally ran in issue #286 of the Comics Journal.

Tiny Tyrant
By Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme

First Second $12.95

Tiny Tyrant must have taken a lot of hard work to produce.

I say that because it seems so completely effortless. Its wit, both visual and verbal, is so razor-sharp and utterly charming, the net result seeming so delightfully tossed off, that I can only assume a lot of toil and tears when into its making.

The book follows the adventures of King Ethelbert, the six-year-old ruler of the imaginary kingdom of Portocristo, a title that, as you may guess, gives him license to behave like a spoiled brat.

Already I hear the gears turning in your head, no doubt imagining a variety of humorous scenarios spun off from such a story pitch. I’m willing to bet, however, you’re not imagining that in a fit of pique he might ship off all of the nation’s children out of the country and replace them with robot duplicates of himself. Or that, fed up with his small size, he would shrink the entire kingdom down to minute size.

But that’s what’s so great about the book: it combines the premise’s dark wish fulfillment of getting your way regardless of behavior or consequences (and what adult, never mind child, hasn’t at some point dreamed of such an opportunity?) with high slapstick and a large helping of absurdity. Most of the fun is seeing how Ethelbert’s reckless behavior leads to bizarre, but within the Portocristo universe entirely logical, consequences.

As you’d expect from the author of Mister O, Trondheim is in his element here, though he rightly tones the level of violence and scatological humor to better suit his intended audience. Parme’s art, meanwhile, compliments the text perfectly. It’s slick and assured, yet rubbery and playful enough to go absolutely loopy when called for, like when giant rats attack the city (don’t ask).

In the end, the best sort of recommendation I can give for Tiny Tyrant is this: I wish this book had been around when I was a kid.

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