It’s possible that the only thing better than “Adventure Time’s” Fionna and Cake is baby Fionna and Cake as Frank Gibson, Becky Dreistadt and Ian McGinty prove in an “Adventure Time: 2014 Annual” entitled “Baby Cakes.”
The primary oversized story, written by Frank Gibson and with art and colors by Becky Dreistadt tells the tale of Fionna turning six years old and is equal parts hilarious and adorable. Filled with action and humor, despite Fionna’s tender age, it’s a wild romp through the dark and into Fionna and Cake’s first real adventure. It’s like an origin story without all the pomp, as we see Fionna discovering for the first time that The Ice Queen is real and not just a character in a story she’s been told.
Fionna is fearless, even in the dark forest, and it’s easy to see that being a hero is stamped into her very soul. Gibson’s story could not be more charming but it’s the ridiculously adorable art by Dreistadt that steals the show. This issue has a horizontal format throughout (especially enjoyable for digital reading) and Dreistadt makes the most of the layout. Her colors are evocative, vibrant, moving, and emotional. Her character acting is pitch perfect — whether it’s a Fionna blushing, shouting or being righteous, or Cake being altogether hilarious in a variety of ways, it’s always the best possible choice to make the story more fun, more adorable, and more poignant. Dreistadt is not afraid to do less and get more, something so few artists are capable of, and the littlest details — like Fionna wearing her birthday hat cone on just one of the ears of her bunny hat — make everything better.
Following the primary story is a series of six one-page strips written and drawn by Ian McGinty. Some are more fun than others — “The Taco Song” and “Lumpstache” — easily stand out as the best of the group, but the other four are a bit limp, despite generally lovely visuals. McGinty gives Baby Fionna a pacifier which somehow seems disturbingly wrong for the character (despite her being a baby) and both his Fionna and Cake, though cute, have nowhere near the range of expressions, moods or humor of Dreistadt’s work. As a result, after such a strong opening, these one-off joke pages feel a bit like less charming filler. Still, they have lovely bright colors (by Fred Stresing) and it’s a chance to feature a lot of supporting characters, if only for a moment, which kids will likely appreciate.
“Adventure Time” continues to get so much right about talented creators, energy, enthusiasm for characters, and boundless creativity when it comes to comics — and “Adventure Time: 2014 Annual” is just another great example of that commitment to excellence in comics. Also, after discovering Becky Dreistadt here, I will follow her anywhere.