Ever see a movie that you've vaguely heard about, and it turns out to be amazing? Read a book that looks good and ends up being one of the best things you've ever read? Picked up a comic that quickly holds you in its grasp, refusing to let you go?
My friends, I give you King Aroo.
I had never heard of this comic strip before picking up this Library of American Comics collection of it totally on a whim. King Aroo was long gone by the time I was aware of my parents buying newspapers; besides, the strip only ran in a few cities. So I picked up this collection pretty much just because I figured I might want to try something different.
It’s not only different, this comic is fantastic! “King Aroo” was an amazing comic strip, as awesomely clever a piece of idiosyncratic genius as comics has ever produced. The world of the title character is filled with puns, silly creatures, surrealistic plotlines, funny characters, and meandering stories that almost seem to bob and weave around the whole idea of having a coherent narrative.
It's also funny as can be.
One of the interesting things about reading these giant hardcover collections of old comic strips is how certain strips work perfectly in this format while others don’t. Many daily comic strips were triumphs of persistence, and not necessarily in a good way. They benefitted from the reader's familiarity with the characters and the re-use of common set pieces and jokes.
In the greatest comics, that level of persistence became iconic--such as Lucy with the football, Krazy and the brick. In others, however, the repetition gets tiresome when read in bulk. Oh look, yet another joke about how ugly Broom Hilda is!
“King Aroo” reads better as a collected strip than it likely read as a daily strip. Creator Jack Kent positively reveled in the kinds of constant variations of jokes that work best in a collected edition. There is a joy to be felt in watching Kent present numerous variations on the same jokes--and finding slightly different humor each time.
First, and most importantly, Kent’s jokes are just plain funny. I guarantee a laugh, giggle, chuckle or guffaw on most any page. Whenever the forgetful elephant wanders onto the strip, I found myself getting excited and ready to laugh. I also liked it when King Aroo is sharing his childlike wonder about the world, or when his assistant Yupyop shared yet another cliché.
The stories are equally as charming. The shaggy dog story about the elephant's birthday is hilarious, and the unforgettable story about the shaggy dog and his pet flea is totally wacky. As for the story of Yupyop the king . . . well, you just have to read it.
Kent's style is irrepressible and unique. His line is as full of life as any animated cartoon, but it's also inhabited by a unique kind of creative genius that would only thrive in comics. No one other than Kent could possibly have created these comic strips, and that uniqueness is a big part of what makes this comic so special.
Anyway, it turns out that my impulse purchase has become one of the favorite books in my collection. King Aroo is a fantastic, sweet, charming, and very funny collection of comic strips. Don't let your lack of familiarity with the comic keep you from trying this true classic.
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