Comic Review: King Aroo, Volume 2: 1952-1954

King Aroo
Volume 2: 1952-1954
Written and Illustrated by Jack Kent
IDW Publishing
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Cover Price: $39.99

King Aroo, the whimsical, surreal, and thought provoking comic strip of the mid-20th Century, now sees its second volume of collected complete daily and Sunday strips (over 700) spanning the years 1952 -1954, released from IDW Entertainment, the premiere company lauded for their extensive and detailed care in housing complete collections of comic strips in book form.

Coming off the first successful volume, this second one brings more of the same kind of sophisticated jockular hilarity from the pen and mind of Jack Kent, a cartoonist who didn’t have formal illustrative training, which in some ways added to the allure and appeal of the strip, which combines elements of Walt Kelly’s famed strip Pogo, a little bit of Al Capp’s Lil Abner, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and even Charles Schultz’s Peanuts (which was in its infancy during that time).

The main protagonist, King Aroo, is ruler of Myopia, and surrounding him are colorfully named and portrayed characters such as Yupyop, Professor Yorgle, Mr. Pennipost, and others, equally bizarre and engaging. The strip asks of the reader total immersion; it’s hard to grasp the humor and intelligence of the pieces at a layman’s clip and approach, it’s reminiscent of later strips like Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes in the sense that at first glance, the strips seem colorful and bright, at further glance, they take on more radicalism and incendiary tones, and the reader is more amply rewarded because of it.

For an artist who learned much of his craft by rote, Kent’s artwork is to be relished; it has a loose but very confident style about it, and his dialogue he puts into his characters are sharp and even intellectual of sorts. Gags don’t end at the last panel, some Sunday strips simply make you think when it’s done. It’s kind of like a Dr. Seuss universe where these characters exist, but strip beneath that all and you find erudite beings who expound on sundry topics, and sometimes the end result for a reader is a smile or smirk, few belly laughs to be found perusing these strips, again, more like insightful little moments of whimsy abound.

Handsomely packaged which is the IDW stock and trade and with a beautiful introduction by Bruce Canwell with rare illustrations by Kent, which shows the range and eclecticism of his work, King Aroo Volume 2 is sure to baffle most, but it harkens back to a time when idiosyncratic comic strips were the order of the day, filled with hidden messages and meanings, characters who weren’t easy to digest, but that was exactly the point. To think that something on a surface level as a simple comic strip could be conveyed in such a manner of examination, shows the range and versatility of Jack Kent’s creation. King Aroo Volume 2 is definitely for the hardcore fan of this Golden Era of the Comic Strip, when it started to really become of age, but also for the curious and adventurous, and those who simply like good stories of surrealism, hilarity and mindbending approach and execution.

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