On Saturday, Feb. 18, fans will head to Chapel Hill Comics to pay $15 for a comic book with a locally drawn cover depicting a princess made of bubblegum and a vampire rocker who drinks the color red instead of blood, and was traumatized by her father eating her fries as a child. And I will be among them.
The comic book, Adventure Time, is based on an Emmy-nominated animated series on Cartoon Network (Mondays, 7:30 p.m.) that, since its premiere in April 2010, has become a strange sensation among children and adults alike. Kids enjoy the bright colors and wacky characters such as Lumpy Space Princess and Lady Rainicorn.
A collection of quotes from the character Lumpy Space Princess, a floating purple blob voiced like a valley girl by the show’s (male) creator, Pendleton Ward
And adults like me enjoy the strange, absurd sense of humor and the occasional adult jokes that go over most elementary-aged heads—and, Chapel Hill Comics owner Andrew Neal is betting, will pay extra for the limited edition cover he illustrated for the release.
Already, he says, he’s gotten orders for the issue from Poland, Australia, Canada and Brazil.
But why has Adventure Time struck such a chord?
From the episode “The Other Tarts”: The Royal Tart Toter (Stephen Root) delivers a haunting existential monologue.
Any attempt to describe the cartoon to neophytes carries the risk of making one sound, quite honestly, demented. But I won’t let that stop me: The simplest answer is that Adventure Time is a fusion of the psychedelic colors and pun-based humor of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine with the sensibilities of small-press comic books and a generation that grew up bombarded by cartoons, video games and Dungeons & Dragons. In an 11-minute episode of Adventure Time, there’s likely to be more ideas, surreal sequences and even poignancy than entire seasons of most adult shows.
The original pilot cartoon for Adventure Time, which aired on Nickelodeon in 2007 and became a viral hit online. Watch for the sequence involving Abraham Lincoln on Mars.
The cast of characters seem borne from creator Pendleton Ward’s childhood doodles (Ward himself, only 29, was recently picked for Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for 2011). The main duo are Jake the Dog, a laid-back talking canine with Plastic Man-like powers of stretching, size-changing and shape-shifting, and Finn the Human, a young boy who always wears a bear hat like many fans of Japanese animation in real life. They live in the Land of Ooo, which many an astute viewer has figured out is a post-apocalyptic Earth still littered with decayed refuse from the “Great Mushroom War.”she speaks in un-translated Korean, with many of her sayings surprisingly saucy entendres (after Jake apologies for biting her while a zombie — don’t ask—her response, loosely translated, was, “It’s okay. I wanted you to bite me.”).
Or, more poignantly, there’s the recurring antagonist the Ice King, not so much a supervillain as a pathetically lonely man reduced to talking to his penguins between efforts to marry a princess by constantly abducting the lot. By the third season of the show, he’s not so much Finn and Jake’s enemy as their unwanted friend, whose efforts at bonding include paralyzing them to force them to watch his slide shows, and writing gender-reversed fan fiction about them.
Ah yes, the fan fiction. That’s a result of the show’s unusual level of interaction with its fans. Writers, storyboard artists and producers of Adventure Time regularly answer fan questions, post behind-the-scenes drawings and actively encourage fan art online. When one show animator, Natasha Allegri, did a series of “gender-flipped” versions of the characters (Cake the Cat and Fionna the Human), the result was popular enough with fans that the show did an entire episode around it, getting Neil Patrick Harris to guest-voice as “Prince Gumball” by messaging him on Twitter.
Neil Patrick Harris as Prince Gumball serenades Finn’s female counterpart Fionna in the hit “Fionna and Cake” episode.
There’s a sense of both spontaneous creativity and richly layered mythology to Adventure Time. Episodes are built around the flimsiest of premises (one recent one saw Finn seek to heal his injured foot to avoid “love therapy” from kisses by “Clown Nurses”), but are still grounded in the classic lesson-learning formula of most cartoons and adventure stories. But there’s the fun in piecing together the complex backstories of the residents of Ooo, or catching the little background details that coexist alongside the likes of the bright colors and silly songs about fries.
An animatic for the recent episode “Another Way,” perhaps the first time foot fetishism has been successfully integrated into the plot of a children’s cartoon.
And, of course, there’s Marceline the Vampire Queen, my favorite character. Voiced by the young singer-songwriter Olivia Olson (the girl who sings “All I Want for Christmas is You” in Love Actually), she has singlehandedly redeemed the reputation of vampires from the likes of Twilight with her kick-ass attitude, fiendishly catchy songs and oddball mystique (episodes from her have ranged from an Inception homage to a musical-themed one that had many viewers speculating her had a romantic interest in Princess Bubblegum, perhaps explaining Chapel Hill Comics’ cover).
There is of course the question as to whether all this is appropriate for kids. To be honest, if I had a 7-year-old, I’m not sure I’d want them watching a show rife with such bits as an adorable elephant exploding (she gets better), a bird being turned inside out and a song that outright refers to Marceline as a “sexy vampire lady.” But most of my friends who do have kids aged 5 to 7 find their offspring just don’t get those elements. Instead, they want hats like Finn’s, or the stretchy Jake toy now available at Toys R Us. And of course, they want the comic book.
So maybe it’s for the best that you’ll see a bunch of kids and adults wearing bear hats at Chapel Hill Comics on Saturday the 18th. Of all the entertainments for all ages out there, there’s fewer that are as weird, wonderful and smart as Adventure Time. It’s a show that celebrates friendship, loyalty, courage and not eating your daughter’s fries, and aren’t those values worth celebrating? (Don’t ask me about the mass of 30ish men in love with the new version of My Little Pony, though. Some things I just choose not to understand.)
From the episode “Memory of a Memory”: Marceline travels into Finn’s memory and witnesses an embarrassing childhood moment.
Adventure Time the comic is in stores now; the Chapel Hill Comics edition premieres on Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.chapelhillcomics.com. Episodes of Adventure Time are available on iTunes or on the compilation DVD My Two Favorite People, with a second, It Came From the Nightosphere, premiering in March.