“SpongeBob Comics” #1 was one of the books I was looking forward to most this week. I’m a bit of a fan of the property and was excited to see how it translates into the world of comics. The results are mixed at times, but the overall experience is an enjoyable one.
The approach taken for “SpongeBob Comics” is that of an anthology with a few short stories, a few one-page gags, a pin-up, and even some behind the scenes stuff about “SpongeBob SquarePants” creator Steve Hillenburg’s pre-“SpongeBob” comic “The Intertidal Zone.” It’s 32 pages of content plus the back and inside-front covers!
Where the comic goes wrong is a pitfall of the medium. “SpongeBob SquarePants” is a show that derives a lot of humor from its use of crazy animation, quick cuts, and the voices of the characters. Here, those assets are gone and the world of Bikini Bottom is a little flatter for it. It doesn’t help that the longest story in the comic is based around music and sound. The premise is funny (Squidward wanting to showcase his music at the Krusty Krab and getting foiled by SpongeBob), but it’s obviously one that is far better suited to the animated world than the comics world. After reading it, I was more curious about what the songs in the story would sound like.
While that story has a hard time adapting to comics, the two-page “Best Joke Ever” strip is designed specifically for comics. Framed by three lead-in panels and two concluding one, it’s a grid of five by four where SpongeBob tells a joke and you determine its course by moving from one panel to the next in any direction you want. There are tons of possibilities and has a fun interactive element. More than that, artist Vince Deporter does a fantastic job of giving each panel its own distinct piece of action, using a variety of angles and facial expressions for SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward. He helps get across the tone and emphasis of each piece of the joke.
The art in the book is consistently the strongest feature. The regular “SpongeBob” look is adhered to for the most part but, thankfully, artists are given the freedom to deviate at times. Andy Rementer’s strange, offbeat depiction of SpongeBob and the gang may surprise some, but also suits the characters quite well. The same goes for James Kochalka’s three strips on the back cover where he does a far more minimal style than the cartoon to great effect, going for a look that makes SpongeBob the straight man to Patrick’s insanity.
And, of course, how could the first issue of “SpongeBob Comics” be complete without appearances from Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy? It’s only a four-page strip, but it’s one of the funnier ones and Hilary Barta delivers energetic, dynamic art as the duo fights against the Octopus King – who is asleep the entire time!
For a debut issue, “SpongeBob Comics” is effective at capturing the tone of the show and allowing the creators to present their own takes on the characters at times. It suffers sometimes from not being able to rely on the strengths of animation and, hopefully, will take advantage of the things that comics can do that animation can’t, adapting its style to this medium more. Me, I’m just wondering what sort of look I’m going to get when I add it to my pull list on Wednesday.