Friday, May 27, 2011

Grocery Store Comics: "Phineas And Ferb Holiday Special 2010"

[You may not always realize it, but there are a number of random print comics on sale at general retail outlets across America on any given week. A lot of them are for kids. Whenever Kiel comes across such a comic at a grocery store, a stop n' gulp, a newsstand or anywhere else they sell Doritos, he buys it. This column is the place where he rambles about those purchases.

As always, reviews on The CKT should NOT be considered any of the following things: The opinion of anyone who works at DC or Marvel. Brief. Smart. Entertaining. Insightful. Spoiler-free. Or vaguely resembling something resembling actual comics criticism. We cool? - KP

Phineas And Ferb: Holiday 2010
Disney Publishing Worldwide
Written & Drawn by Various
Website Here

Purchased At: Walgreen's Drug Store, Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL

So to start out for anyone who doesn't know – because I didn't know exactly what this was until I bought the above magazine – "Phineas And Ferb" is a pretty popular cartoon show that Disney produces for their Disney XD cable channel. I mean, it's a big deal in that way that every few years some show comes along where they make a ton of cash selling alarm clocks and Nintendo game and tooth brushes with the characters on them, and Tina Fey does a voice for an episode or whatever. Maybe if you have kids you know this?

Anyway, I picked up this holiday special when it was, you know, the holidays, but I think they actually still have copies at the drug store up the street from my apartment. The cover boasts "9 Exclusive Comic Stories!" which is what caught my eye, and those pages are about evenly split with a bunch of regular kiddie magazine stuff like puzzles, cutouts and little features centering on screencaps from the show. But the comics themselves I found interesting for two reasons.

First of all, one of the head editors on this is Steve Behling – longtime editor of the comics in the late lamented Disney Adventures digest magazine. I always remember Behling's name not just because he put together some fine comics in that previous gig including work from Art Baltazar, Matt Feazel and the very first Roger Langridge Muppets comics but also because when I first moved to New York I applied for a job as his assistant at United Media like 14 times only to be thwarted by pretty tough HR woman. Behling is credited here as co-executive editor of the whole Phineas And Ferb package, and Rob Tokar – who's got a pretty wild mix of credits on Comic Vine ranging from '90s Marvel series like a Northstar mini to Brandon Graham's King City – served as Comics Editor. Really great to see people who know their stuff finding work on a comics-focused project like this.

The second really noteworthy thing out the gate is the fact that the comics pages really stand out, thanks largely to their design simplicity. A lot of the text and image features in the mag are clip-art heavy and somewhat indistinguishable from the advertisements. So when the comic show up – often at five to nine pages at a clip – their clean white gutters make them pop. Flipping through, that content feels like its both the meat of the package and the main event content-wise.

Beyond that, the actual strips are a mixed bag. I watched a few episodes of "Phineas And Ferb" on Netflix before I wrote this, and from what I gather, the whole series follows a pretty strict formula from show-to-show. Each time out, the titular step brother leads launch an improbably crazy project that takes up one summer – building a rollercoaster in their backyard or (in these comics) throwing their pet platypus Perry a birthday party complete with carnival games. In the process, a few things always happen: their sister tries to rat them out to mom unsuccessfully, they're confronted by an adult who asks "Aren't you a little young to be doing X?" to which Phineas replies "Yes, yes we are" and most wackily, Perry always runs off to put on a fedora and fight a mad scientist who's built some tangential plot-point generating machine with the suffix "-inator" attached to its functional name.

If that sounds extremely repetitive, it feels that way watching the show too. I mean, I only saw two episodes, and I got the formula down pat real quick. Hitting those many specific notes in a few comics pages AND matching the simple and pretty flat geometric character designs makes crafting a unique comics story pretty tough. There's nothing here that a kid who likes the show wouldn't instantly recognize as being "on model" but there's also nothing that leaves a big mark on you. I recognize a lot of the creators who worked on the strips including former Justice League Adventures artist Min S. Ku and frequent DC and Disney kids comics artist Eric Jones (not sure if the Scott Peterson credited as writer is the former WildStorm editor or a TV show staffer), but I saw very little from the work here of their personal cartooning flourishes. Some things stand out – a cartoon show within the context of one strip lets Jones get loose one some character doodling for example – but overall I guess my feeling is that these comics don't feel comics specific enough. The stories try a bit too hard to be exactly like the show – one even attempts one of the cartoon's song sequences with a panel of dancing kids accompanied by some floating musical notation – rather than tweaking the premise for the printed page. A little play breaking the Phineas and Ferb threads from the Perry secret agent stuff as separate stories doesn't quite cut it.

But hey...with the names involved here, I'm sure there's room for growth if this particular brand of comic keeps going a while. I originally thought this holiday special was a one-off, but reading the issue, a lot of the text features push kids hard to subscribe to a quarterly iteration (which I think launched this month, though no copies were at Walgreen's). In fact, it looks like Disney Publishing is ramping up for a few different kinds of these $10 comic-heavy magazines under the direction of Behling and his Co-Executive Editor Amy Weingartner including a "Thor" movie tie-in I just picked up and I believe those Pixar magazines that were recently announced. Marvel Editorial provided the comics for the former, but I'm not sure who's going to be putting together the new Cars 2 stuff after they run out of Boom! reprint stuff. Either way, I'm happy to see more kids comics hitting the once mighty general retail market and hope Disney keeps this stuff up for a while.


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