The Kurdles Adventure Magazine #1. Edited by Robert Goodin. Comics and other features by Robert Goodin, Andrew Brandou, Georgene Smith Goodin, Cathy Malkasian, and Cesar Spinoza. Fantagraphics, July 2018. 52 pages.
The new Kurdles Adventure Magazine, brainchild of editor-cartoonist Robert Goodin, revisits the nonsensical world of Goodin’s graphic novel, The Kurdles (2015), with its eccentric characters, cockeyed story-logic, and gorgeous drawing. The Magazine’s 52 pages include half a dozen short stories and one-pagers starring the Kurdles (two of them reprints from anthologies) but also various stories and features by alumni of Goodin’s erstwhile micro-press venture, Robot Publishing: Cesar Spinoza, Andrew Brandou, and, probably the best known of the bunch, Cathy Malkasian (Percy Gloom, Eartha). These artists created deluxe minicomics for Robot back in the day, and generally hail from TV animation (Goodin’s day job, so to speak). The Magazine, then, not only carries on The Kurdles but also reaffirms Goodin’s bond with a small community of likeminded cartoonists. It’s a lovely, strange concoction that seems less like a children’s magazine, traditionally conceived, and more like an artist’s pet project.
The Magazine offers new Pacho Clokey strips by Spinoza, a new Howdy Partner story by Brandou, and, strongest of the lot in my opinion, a lovely tale by Malkasian, “No-Body Likes You, Greta Grump.” It also offers, courtesy of Georgene Smith Goodin, a disarmingly complex set of directions for knitting one of the Kurdle characters, Pentapus (wow). Altogether, these features make for an odd, and defiantly uncommercial, mix. I found myself wondering who—besides me—this magazine is for.
The Kurdles stories and pages here, Goodin’s, are sly and funny, reviving the quirky community of talking animals introduced in the graphic novel. Two of the stories, bookending the magazine, involve Sally the teddy bear (perhaps the series’s closest thing to a reader surrogate) asking questions about how color is perceived, and these become deliciously meta, in effect commenting on Goodin’s own choices as colorist and painter. These tales may bewilder readers unfamiliar with the graphic novel’s world, and are, well, pretty esoteric for first offerings from an “adventure magazine.” What can you say about a mag that begins with a story titled “Pentapus the Pentachromat”? In fact these stories didn’t quite “click” for me until I re-read the Kurdles graphic novel, and then re-read the stories—at which point their cleverness and characterizations made perfect sense. Readers who dig the Kurdles may wish for a much larger dose than what this first issue offers
Malkasian’s “Greta Grump” concerns a mean, unhappy little girl who bullies a whole series of “rental” pets available at a pet shop until she finally meets her match in a blunt Seussian tortoise: a dapper, sharp-tongued Mr. Belvedere type who trades barb for barb and so bewilders the girl that he effectively disarms her. The relationship between Greta and “No-Body” is a tantalizing story engine, and Malkasian builds it with a light touch, avoiding didacticism even as she transforms Greta from a stock type, the little terror, into someone more shaded and interested. It’s a lovely, insinuating piece that has something to say about race (Greta is a white girl with parents of color who worries about not looking “like them”) but skirts the obvious moralisms, allowing its distinct comic twosome to get to know each other rather than worrying over the delivery of a Message. This is very promising work as well as a strong story in its own right. By contrast, Spinoza’s and Brandou’s contributions, though droll and distinctive, don’t seem to offer much in the way of future tales.
When I reviewed the Kurdles graphic novel I marveled at its uncommercial and non-formulaic nature, its embrace of nonsense and defiance of conventional wisdoms. I suppose I have to say the same about this new venture. Goodin calls it an "independent, kid-friendly comic magazine," but frankly I can't see it working as a magazine in the traditional sense, and certainly not as a children's mag. Publication plans seem to call for just one issue a year, as the next issue is promised for summer 2019 (though perhaps the magazine is meant to speed up, once established?). Further, the first issue, while absorbing to this comics fan, does not offer a serial of the sort that the phrase “adventure magazine” brings to mind. Nor does it offer a succinct and enticing reintroduction to the world of Kurdles for those who have not read the graphic novel. While Fantagraphics is promoting this as the “best kids comic mag since the demise of Nickelodeon magazine,” it's really a world away from that model. The comics in it seem ripe for alt-comix anthologies of the Pood, Mome, or Now variety, rather than a mag that aims to be “kid-friendly” (though I'm not saying that the work is kid-unfriendly). The low frequency, lack of an anchoring serial (Goodin promises one starting in issue #2), and shortage of other interactive features besides comics (those knitting instructions do not strike me as kid-friendly) make The Kurdles seem like a long shot commercially, and I'm left to wonder if Goodin's Kurdles universe might best be served up in another venue, say in occasional issues of a more general comics anthology.
Indeed the children's magazine format does not seem like the optimal vehicle for this work. Such a format needs to come out oftener, with a variety of appealing comics and non-comics features, such as activity pages, gag cartoons, and (I hate to say it) transmedia tie-ins. That’s what made the quirky comics section in Nickelodeon possible. Also, it should probably go without saying at this point that the direct market, which seems to be the primary market for this mag, is not the ideal matrix for a children's periodical. Despite some wonderfully eccentric comics, then--which will certainly lure me back for future issues—The Kurdles Adventure Magazine strikes me as a quixotic proposition at best.
There's nothing wrong with that, but I do fear that the project will be hard to sustain without the kind of compromises that “kids' comic mags” usually entail. The Kurdles Adventure Magazine seems more likely to become an annual alternative comix booklet supported by diehards, as opposed to a kids' periodical with momentum, market presence, and a chance of making a dent in children's comics reading. Too bad, because a periodical with regular doses of Goodin and Malkasian is a wonderfully enticing prospect.
Fantagraphics provided a digital review copy of this book. (Having seen it at last on paper, I have to say that the printed version wows me, color-wise. Paper suits Goodin's work!)