The Strangest Pictures I Have Seen #6

Posted by on July 6th, 2010 at 2:05 PM

Mo Willems was at this year’s meeting of the National Cartoonists Society, talking up the universality of comics.  It bothered him, said the bestselling creator of Knuffle Bunny, the Elephant and Piggie series, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, when reviewers described his picture books as “influenced by comics.”  He saw them as comics, plain and simple.  He had, in fact, just loaned art from his book Elephants Can’t Dance! to the Cartoon Art Museum for its “Storytime!” exhibition, to be displayed alongside art from Jeff Smith’s Bone.

Children’s books in comic form are often overlooked in the annals of comicdom, even though they’re some of the most beloved and widely read comics out there.  Has any “mainstream” comic of recent years infused itself into the mass public consciousness on the level of Knuffle Bunny, Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid?  Okay, maybe Naruto.  Maybe.  But nothing else.  From Crockett Johnson onward, there’s a rich history of cartoonists moving back and forth between the comics industry and children’s publishing, reworking the same basic elements of graphic storytelling for another format, another audience.

Anyway, here’s the first comic book I ever read.

Cindy Lou and the Witch’s Dog
by Jack Kent

Jack Kent is so good!  Respect this mofo now!  The new King Aroo collection from IDW is one I’ve eagerly anticipated, thanks to years of poring over the Cartoon Art Museum’s extensive collection of original Aroo strips.  In addition to his charming strip set in a pleasant, pun-infested animal kingdom, Kent wrote and drew gobs of picture books.  Cindy Lou and the Witch’s Dog is notable for being presented entirely in comics form, with panels and word balloons and everything else Scott McCloud and R.C. Harvey require, even on the cover.

Cindy Lou, an average be-hair-ribboned little blonde girl, is abruptly put to work dogsitting for a witch she runs into on the street.  Complication: the dog has lapped up various magic potions over the years, and as a result he turns into a different animal every time he hiccups.

Because, as King Aroo demonstrates, Jack Kent is great at drawing animals, Cindy Lou’s assignment drags her through a wide range of adventures with different creatures through land, sea, air, and a pedigreed cat show where the dog turns into a cat, wins first prize, then promptly turns back into a dog.  This leads to one of my favorite single panels in any comic ever:

I cannot overestimate my love of Kent’s art.  He’s one of the great workhorses of 20th-century children’s illustration: simple, reliable, prolific, and able to get the job done with quiet panache.  His line is clean but appealingly loose (a little like a less quirky Quentin Blake), his character and animal designs are consistently round and cuddly, his watercolors are bright and bold without losing their organic quality, and, unlike a lot of artists who draw cute, he also draws funny.  Check out these reaction shots.

OMG MOST ADORABLE DOCTOR.

Cindy Lou and the Witch’s Dog was, along with the newspaper funny pages, my introduction to comics.  On some fundamental level, this is still pretty much what I expect a comic book to look like.  Again and again, comic books disappoint me by not being drawn by Jack Kent.  The guy was a class act all the way.

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One Response to “The Strangest Pictures I Have Seen #6”

  1. Shay Guy says:

    Quibble: Captain Underpants, except for a deliberately amateurish chapter or two per book, is illustrated prose.

    Well, I say deliberately amateurish. Maybe there’s something aside from silliness George and Harold actually do remarkably well, you’d know better than I would.