Review by Frank Plowright
The title alone indicates that we’re not dealing with run of the mill comics here, and if any confirmation were needed, take a look at the cover to the original edition. Great as it is, there aren’t many people who’d select that image to present their work. Then, as the content, proves, Ken Knudtsen is no ordinary comic creator.
We begin with a severely brooding ape. This is Jennifer, actually a male chimpanzee, and a seething mass of resentment throughout. “If I had my claws” is a consistent refrain. He has some tolerance, though, for the pre-teen Kaitlyn, to whom he’s been provided as a pet. The resolutely cheerful Kaitlyn dresses the ape in girls’ clothes and refers to him as Lady Jennifer during their tea parties.
If that all seems a little offbeat and strange, as far as this book goes that’s just the basic premise. The ‘weird’ button has yet to be pressed. We first have Kaitlyn abducted by a mad scientist looking to harness the power generated by happy children, we meet her skeletoid guardian angel, and a boat full of pirates who sing in rhyme. The seeming closer is an evening trip to the cinema to see Pretty Rapping Alpacas.
Some of this is fantastic. Some of this is touching. Some of this is hilarious, but only rarely at the same time, and it’s all undisciplined. It’s as if Knudtsen begins a strip with no idea where it’s going to end, throws in any idea that occurs to him (Connecticut’s Ululating Ninja Transvestites? Really?) and to hell with wherever he started. While this can be a thrill ride, the novelty wears off with the realisation that the story lurches in the direction Knudtsen decides on when starting a new page. Yet having noted that, the weakest strip is when Knudtsen reins himself in and takes the trip from A to B. It’s frustrating as there’s one immense talent on display here. The manner in which he combines childhood innocence with bizarre dangers is beautifully achieved, and chain a hundred monkeys to typewriters and they’re going to produce Hamlet before coming up with Knudtsen’s concept or plot.
No-one taught by Walt Simonson who takes the lessons in is going to be a poor artist, and Knudtsen is excellent. Jennifer is kinetic mass of action, rarely still, Knudtsen using those long arms for maximum artistic effect, and despite the odd sketchy mis-step everything required is there on the page.
Sadly Knudtsen’s not the most prolific of creators. A second volume eventually followed, and his blog is consistently entertaining.