Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken, Vol. 1: Troublems with Frenemies
written by Ray Friesen
It’s been a problem since the dawn of time: Chickens and penguins don’t like each other very much. Neither do pirates and ninjas. So diametrically opposed are these totemic forces that they are forced to engage in eternal battle, which is finally captured here by the hyperactive brush of Ray Friesen.
Okay, so chickens and penguins may not tear at each others’ throats with hook-hands and rapiers, but they get on each others’ nerves for many, many small reasons, and may flip over a board game or two. Friesen constructs, with abject innocence, a weird exploration of relationships and the push and pull of love and hate that accompany them. But mostly, he draws goofy birds saying funny things to one another.
Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken might feel a bit impenetrable to an older audience. It’s paced as if it were a very excited Saturday morning cartoon that has been placed on the static page. In fact, much of this collection is perfectly designed and paced for animation—perhaps even more appropriately than it fits on the printed page. Each panel is punctuated with so many quips and jokes that they don’t work to form a narrative so much as they collectively embody an extended Abbot and Costello routine. While the images and jokes are thoroughly modern, it owes a great debt to Lucy and Desi, making it all a superb homage to classic comedy. The jokes are consistently amusing, but many require vocal intonation to land properly. Prepare to read with silly, dramatic voices in your head for maximum enjoyment.
Friesen’s art complements the unrelenting barrage of jokes, making every character appear animated and expressive, a la The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack or Chowder, with the same affection for the ridiculousness of human emotion and wordplay. It’s all a contextual language that is inherent to the most inventive cartoons, and popular among the children’s floor at the library, even if it may initially assault the senses of the comic book elders.
Digital art and coloring makes everything appear even more luminescent and alive on the page, placing it even deeper in the world of “why isn’t this a cartoon already?”
Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken collects strips that were originally published on Friesen’s website, Don’t Eat Any Bugs, so if you’d like to get a feel for this, you can hop on over and read many of these for free. There’s nothing here to be offended by or become concerned about, unless cartoon violence covered in clouds of obscuring dust crosses the line. This collection is a lot of fun, and a neat addition to any kid-friendly library.
-- Collin David