“Todd the Ugliest Kid on Earth” is centered on an ugly corner of the world, one in which the title character wears a bag over his head, the classmates are bullies, the parents are wrecks, the neighbors are potentially murderous and the local police department is filled with despicable characters. With a “Mature” rating stamped on the back cover, Ken Kristensen and M.K. Perker are free to explore the uglier side of their small town, complete with knock-off Ken and Barbie doll toys that are the subject of innuendo and pranks.
There’s a lot to take in with the first issue, including a couple of extra characters who seem to have nothing to do with the story, but are funny in one-off scenes. The blind pet store owner with a collection of blind pets works as a one-off gag, though I have a feeling he’ll come into play with the larger storyline further down the road. “The Maniac Killer,” the guy who wanders the neighborhood in a trenchcoat and a swinging ax, is either scary or funny and I’m not sure which I’m supposed to believe. The graphic image of a frog sliced in half draws you one way, but his overall benign scene pushes back to the other.
The titular Todd is wonderfully sympathetic, seemingly the only part of this world that makes any sense. He’s got his own quirks, but he’s also the poor picked-upon kid who becomes sympathetic by the outrageous things that happen against him along the way. His mother is against him; his father is a maniac. As with most of the characters in the book, they’re gross caricatures. They’re two dimensional characters at the start that get played for crass laughs. How much of that you’re able to tolerate will tell you how much you’ll like this book. I’m about at my limit after the first issue, but I’m hoping there’s more to come in future issues that will sell me on the book.
I’ll stick around for Perker’s art, though. It’s wonderfully done. It’s stylized and cartoony, but energetic and unique. The characters are big-headed, but not disproportionately so. He knows how far to push the characters and when to play a panel for laughs versus when to make a ridiculous scene play straight. His page layouts are two to four tiers tall, with straight-edged panel borders and easy to read storytelling.
The coloring from Cemal Soyleyen works to great effect. It has a textured look to spots, almost like it’s being done with a colored pencil or watercolors. (Check out the grass for a strong example of how the color is painted in.) It adds a richness to the art that might at first seem at odds with the “simpler” line style, but blends in well. The colors can be bold at times, with green, purple, and blue backgrounds, while held back for the more drab locations. This is a colorist adding something to a book without showing off at the art’s expense.
Perker does his own lettering. I could nit-pick about a few things — off-center text in the balloons, balloons that seem to butt up against the panel borders but come a quarter inch short — but most people won’t notice it. I like the way the balloons properly butt up against the borders when they do, and the font isn’t at odds with the art. And, as the artist, he knows to leave room in the panels for the balloons, so it never looks like an afterthought that’s squeezed in.
The inside front cover provides a character guide that sums up what you get from reading the comic, while adding in details in a funny way. It’s a good thing to read, but you don’t need to let it bog you down before reading the story, itself.
“Todd the Ugliest Kid on Earth” shows a lot of potential with its first issue. It’s a matter now of seeing how it plays out in the coming issues. Will it make a play for cheap jokes and ugly characters? Or will a bigger storyline emerge with a cast of characters that so far are either held stationary or are caricatures of real personalities? Will the worst of the worst pay for their “crimes”? Either way, I hope the art holds up, because it’s the highlight of the book right now, a bouncy blend of comic strip style characters and animation-inspired motion. “Todd” has a lot of potential upside; let’s see if it lives up to it in the next three issues of this mini-series.