The Tiny Tyrant, Vol. One: The Ethelbertosaurus
written by Lewis Trondheim
illustrated by Fabrice Parme
Tiny Tyrant is a delightful little book, but be warned that the humor is not that subtle sort that adults find as appealing as kids. It’s more that kid type of humor that smashes you in the face.
The title perfectly describes the book: King Ethelbert is six years old and the king of the small, apparently European, nation of Portocristo. He rules with an iron, if grimy, fist, and the basic joke in this series is very simple: When Ethelbert wants something, no matter how unreasonable, he gets it, because he is the king. And being six years old, he wants very unreasonable things.
For instance: When a dinosaur is discovered in his kingdom, he wants it named after him. Then he decides it is too small and demands that the archaeologist find a bigger one. Or fake it. He ends up in a lab demanding that the scientists there clone him a dinosaur, and when they balk, he impatiently grabs chemicals and a laser and does it himself. The story rockets off from there, and in the end, Ethelbert learns a lesson, sort of—that the little dinosaur is tougher than the big one.
Each of the other stories follows this same basic pattern: Ethelbert wants something, and he gets it through sheer force of will, combined with the fact that he is the king. Of course, the world being a complicated place, things always go awry. But don’t look for Ethelbert to learn any lessons from his experiences; the only nod in that direction is the story in which he replaces all the children of Portocristo with robots that look and act exactly like him. Of course, the greedy little robots quickly eat up all the food and overrun the palace, screaming out unreasonable demands, but the episode is played more for laughs than as a lesson about selfishness.
Although it is actually a French comic, Tiny Tyrant reads like a Nickelodeon cartoon. The art has the same zany, caricatured quality, with big heads, exaggerated features, and simple but distinctive backgrounds. The humor is broad and slapstick, and the timing is reminiscent of animated cartoons, with double-takes, reaction shots, and jokes grouped in threes.
Trondheim and Parme eschew standard panels for their stories, choosing instead to let their illustrations float on the page without borders. Their work is well organized enough that this works, and each story is printed on a different pastel background, which helps unify the page. The storytelling is fairly complex, with nine or ten panels on a page and multiple word balloons in a panel, but the stories are straightforward enough that readers should be able to handle that.
This volume contains the first six stories from the original Tiny Tyrant book published by First Second in 2007. That book was digest-sized and, as a result, the comics were small and difficult to read. This new volume contains fewer stories but the larger format makes them much more readable.