After reading Robert Goodin’s The Man Who Loved Breasts, which contained three comics with its humor slightly in the vein of Robert Crumb’s Snatch but with far more restraint and less genitalia, I did not know what to expect from Goodin’s first book, The Kurdles, a story with a tale and accompanying illustrations aimed toward children. However, when looking at the large album format and watercolor pages of the book, I knew I was in far different territory from the black and white clever and perverse pages of The Man Who Loved Breasts. And in addition to the different formats, the mostly non-human cast of characters of The Kurdles, led by a Snuggle-like, adorable bear, prepared me for a tale with just as much fun but far more innocence.
The fundamental plot of The Kurdles is a simple one. Unwanted by her owner, Sally the bear gets lost in the forest where she meets Dog, Hank the miniature unicorn, Pentapus the five-legged color changing creature, and Phineas the little scarecrow. The group promises to help Sally return to the road to find her home, but only after they handle the disease plaguing their home. Consequently, Sally must return with the crew to their house, sick with a peculiar disease where purple hair grows and envelops it.
As the hair devours more and more of Hank, Pentapus, Phineas, and Dog’s home, it develops eyes, becomes a creature of its own, and begins to sing sea shanties, creating more urgency to find a cure in order to not only save the group from homelessness but also from insanity induced by the purple haired monster’s perpetual drunken songs. Consequently, Sally, originally a bystander, must jump into the mission to cure the house of the purple malady in order to try to make it back to her home. But instead of winding back up on the road in search of her owners who dismissed her, in the course of searching for a treatment and eventually creating and applying a yellow-green concoction to the house, Sally finds out the real meaning of the words home and family in the company of Dog, Hank, Pentapus, and Phineas.
Similar to other children’s tales of getting lost and finding a new home, The Kurdles distinguishes itself with a charming, inviting, and imaginative world and set of characters. While Sally is undoubtedly cute, so much so that you want to jump into the panels and give her a hug, Pentapus, Hank, and Phineas capture most of your attention. Pentapus’s color changes, sneezes and congested speech remind me of a goofier version of my childhood self in the midst of springtime allergies. Hank, the confident and somewhat temperamental unicorn, delivers some of the funniest insults, mumbles, and observations. And to temper the differences in personas between Pentapus and Hank, we have Phineas, the moderate, patient, and somewhat paternal of the bunch, who manages to keeps a level head throughout the course of the battle against the purple growth and leads the effort to take back the home.
With The Kurdles, Goodin makes a strong showing in his first venture into the children’s book arena. The sweet yet never sentimental plot influences the lovely artwork and vice versa, creating a complete work that will engage not only children but also adults. The setting and the characters are drawn and colored with the softness of Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear sprinkled with a touch of Dr. Seuss’s playfulness, humor, and imagination, taking you back to your own time of wide-eyed adventures and awe stemming from your own mental, magical creations. I look forward to seeing Goodin further develop children’s books, especially with further deviations away from traditional children’s storybook conventions and plots and more injections of his absurdist sense of humor and understanding of the oddities of the world as featured in The Man Who Loved Breasts.
A nice, short escape from reality, The Kurdles accomplishes the balance of light and dark concepts to elicit sadness, sympathy, and joy, teaching children about the emotional spectrum ranging from despair to hope and reminding jaded adults of the same and all because of purple hair and inebriated sailors’ sea songs.
The Kurdles by Robert Goodin is available now via Fantagraphics Books.