by Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme
“What if the most powerful person in your nation was a spoiled brat?”
So runs the strapline on the back cover of Tiny Tyrant volume 1. Nowadays the possible answer might be “would that really be any worse than the mess we’re in at the moment”.
But Tiny Tyrant isn’t setting itself out to be a political saga. It’s purely and simply a funny, funny series of seven short strips designed for children but should easily bring a smile and several giggles to the face of even the most jaded adult (me, for example). A lot of the comedy is multi-layered clever stuff; slapstick and silly for the children, clever twists and dialogue for the adults.
(Ethelbert sits through a government meeting of unparalleled boredom until he hears one fateful word: Dinosaur. And then we get the payoff of that wonderfully funny final panel where the expression is just priceless. From Tiny Tyrant.)
So you get six stories here where King Ethelbert, the tiny tyrant of the title, a complete nightmare of childhood ideas in control of everything he surveys who has one silly idea after another and proceeds to spend the story seeing the scheme through to it’s ridiculous and funny conclusion. You’ll see him bringing Dinosaurs back for fun, replacing all of the country’s children with robotic versions of himself, flying to visit Santa Claus at the North Pole (or so our little Tyrant thinks), trying to get his favourite comic artist to sign his collection (difficult when the artist hates kings and our tiny tyrant doesn’t do poor very well) and competing with fellow tiny monarchs in the crowned heads rally.
They’re all funny, sweet, madcap tales but my favourite of the bunch is “Safety First” where Ethelbert gets assigned a bodyguard and decides to test how effective he is. Throwing himself out of the window doesn’t seem to work so Ethelbert decides to take out a contract on himself. The ridiculousness of the gag and the subsequent bits of slapstick are worthy of a Pink Panther film (which is fitting as the art looks just like DePatie-Freleng animated Pink Panther mixed with some Ronald Searle) as the massed legions of the world’s assassins and terrorist groups each take their shot, with the bodyguard valiantly protecting his king throughout.
(Parme’s inventive page layout, with blocks of colour replacing panel borders is a delightfully child friendly look. From Tiny Tyrant, art by Parme.)
Equal credit for the funny has to go to both Trondheim’s clever, inventive, rollercoaster storylines and dialogue and Parme’s playful and delicate artwork. For every funny situation and gag Trondheim throws in, Parme responds with equally funny visual gags on page after colourful page of art where traditional panel borders are jettisoned to allow the individual panels to be defined by the characters or a clever touch of block colour backgrounds. To add to the colourful, kid friendly look every one of the six stories have a different pastel background. It all adds together to make the Tiny Tyrant look quite different from a lot of comics out there.
It’s lightweight, frothy, madcap fun and a worthy addition to any child’s shelf. Or any grown-ups for that matter.