Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ralph Cosentino's The Marvelous Misadventures of Fun-Boy

I realize this is my third post this month about a work by Ralph Cosentino, but I swear I'm not trying to turn this into a Ralph Cosentino fan blog or anything*. It's just that I'm really excited about his art, and every new book of his I check out seems well worth spending some time talking about. Take, for example, The Marvelous Misadventures of Fun-boy (Viking; 2006), a book you'll likely find shelved with the children's picture books at your local library or book store, but which is actually a short collection of a dozen comic strips.

It's a rather unusual book in that respect, as it's essentially a comic strip collection of a comic strip that seemed to have been reverse-engineered from the collection in order to fill the collection, if that makes sense (Which it probably doesn't).

The book is a six-and-a-half-inch high, eleven-inch long hardcover rectangle. When you open it up, the picture space doubles to 22-inches long. Across this huge horizontal space are stretched a series of four-panel comic strips. Each opens with the title of the strip, Fun-Boy in the upper right-hand corner, followed by the name of an episode.

Each stars the main character "Fun-Boy," an imaginative little dark haired boy who gets into little adventures and misadventures that end with gentle punchlines. The strips aren't terribly funny, but still funnier than about nine-tenths of what you'll find in the funnies pages on any given day. They're also silent, so the jokes are all completely visual in nature.

This suits Cosentino's work just fine, given the strength of his visuals. The level of abstraction here is somewhere between that of The Story of Honk-Honk-Ashoo and Swella-Bow-Wow and Batman: The Story of The Dark Knight.

The designs are stripped-down and super-cute, but still contain plenty of detail—it's just that the details are themselves stripped-own and super-cute. It's a flat, flat world, where every shape looks a bit like a piece of colorful paper cut out and reassembled into the big, square panels seamlessly to create a new comic strip reality.

I'm well beyond the target audience for the book, and I honestly didn't laugh, chuckle or even smile once at any of the jokes (unless you count the identification of one of the little kid characters on the inside front cover as "Pirate Steve," who, for some reason, has five o'clock shadow). But I still found it well worth my time just to see what Cosentino was doing here.

Here's an example of one of the strips. Because of the shape of the book, I had to chop it in half to fit it on the scanner. Just bear in mind that these four panels would stretch across the 22-inch length of the book in a single row if you were holding the real deal in your hands:

By the way, does that joke seem a little familiar? If so, you may remember that Cosentino used a version of it in the comics strip Scaredy Cat that Honk-Honk-Ashoo was reading in the paper.

Cosentino engages in quite a few allusions to Honk-Honk-Ashoo in this work, actually. For example, Fun-Boy's slippers above look an awful lot like Honk-Honk-Ashoo's bunny slippers, don't they?

In the first strip in the book, Fun-Boy is shown in a library in the first and fourth panels. In the first, there's a spine that reads "Honk-Honk-Ashoo & Swella Bow-Wow" on the bookshelf in the background. And here in the fourth, you can see the book's cover:

The book appears again in the fourth and final panel of one of the Little Nemo-esque strips, in which Fun-Boy awakens from an exciting scene only to find it was all a dream. It's on the floor near Giant Iron-Man and Spider-Guy:
I didn't notice that until my second or third time through the book. The first time I was way too distracted by a disturbing detail of this panel. Look at what Fun-Boy is using as a pillow! It's the severed head of Honk-Honk-Ashoo!

Severed heads aside, I would understand if you think this book looks a little too childish to engage your more mature, sophisticated interests. After all, Amazon recommends it for ages four to eight. So I would just like to point out that there's a little something in here for grown men too (beyond all the great art, of course). Fun-Boy's mom?
Totally hot.

Okay, I swear this is my last post about Cosentino, as Fun-Boy brings us to the end of his bibliography. Well, at least until April, when his Superman: The Story of The Man of Steel is due, and I have a feeling I'll probably have something to say about that too.

*Although if I were, I'd be sure and point out this awesome Batman vs. Godzilla painting of his, and let you know that you can see details of it here.

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