The old saying about good children’s literature also holding up for adults remains in full effect in The Kurdles, author and illustrator Robert Goodin’s first graphic novel. Goodin is an old-hat in the moving-pictures business, having worked on Rugrats and American Dad. His first foray onto the printed page displays a keen hand for lush watercolors and an ability for creating relatable characters and modern strangeness.

The protagonist of The Kurdles is a no-nonsense, yet occasionally flappable, teddy bear named Sally, who was abandoned by her owner during a road trip. Her troubles begin when she is thrown from the family car, snatched by a passing owl, and unceremoniously dumped into the middle of the woods. Just as Sally dusts herself off and tries to get her bearings, she is attacked by a dog. She is ready to defend herself (or die trying) when the dog’s owner and friends stumble into the middle of things, and manage to convince Sally that the dog meant no harm. Having nowhere else to go and feeling curious about these strangers and their requests for assistance, Sally falls in with her new compatriots, the Kurdles: Hank, a unicorn with five o’clock shadow, Phineas, probably a scarecrow, and Pentapus, a…something. The Kurdles have a problem, and they need all the help they can get; their house back in Kurdleton is growing a thick head of hair, and will soon become uninhabitable.

Thus begins an adventure of sorts, pitting our characters against a problem that gradually becomes more and more weird and complicated. Their world is bizarre, yet the delightful characterizations that Goodin has created lend The Kurdles a wonderful sense of relatability. Sally is pragmatic, sometimes serious, yet prone to over-reacting, especially when it comes to self-preservation. Hank is deadpan, observant, and friendly, but displays a lack of patience when under pressure. These characters are real; complex, conflicted, ultimately believable. Goodin’s watercolors are a rich partner to the plot and scripting. The muted, lo-fi colors grant a dreamlike quality to the story, which meshes very well with the oddness of the characters and setting.

There’s nothing in the way of explanation about how Sally is capable of speech or sentience, much less the rest of the Kurdles, and no information is revealed about how Kurdleton, Hank, Phinas, or Pentapus came to be, and yet none of that is even remotely important. Stories that let readers fill in the blanks with their own imaginations are often the best kind, and there is ample room in the world of the Kurdles for more flights of fancy. Hopefully, Robert Goodin continues to produce glimpses into this strange and endearing universe.

The Kurdles
by Robert Goodin
ISBN: 9781606998328
Fantagraphics, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10

  • Garrett Gottschalk

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Garrett Gottschalk is an adult reference librarian at the Elmwood Park Public Library, Chicagoland, Illinois. He grew up on the great plains of Kansas, where he enjoyed subscriptions to Captain America, Thor, and Mad Magazine. After a fantasy detour during high school, he re-discovered comics of all flavors in college, and he currently spends his workdays ordering and promoting graphic novels (and music, video games, assorted non-fiction, etc) for the library, among other programming, outreach, and educational activities. Besides reading comics, Garrett enjoys spending time with his amazing wife, brewing and drinking beer, getting out of the country once in a while, gaming, rock shows, and organizing tabletop RPGing in Chicago as a volunteer community representative for Paizo Publishing. His mustache is a labor of love, and has been with him in spirit his entire life.

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