It’s rare to have a comic based on a cartoon. More likely, you’ll have a cartoon derived from a comic. Much can be said for a series that defies the norm, especially with Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake. Perhaps what this idea signifies best is the large fan base that led to it becoming a multimedia hit. The book features the exploits of Fionna and Cake, a girl heroine and her superpowered cat, spinning out from an in-show “fanfic” in the original Adventure Time TV series. The show is TV-PG, themed for kids and adults, and the comic adheres to the same style. Natasha Allegri writes and illustrates the main story. Up front, it needs to be noted that I’m not a huge fan of many cartoons these days, but this comic holds my attention.
Allegri does a great job with the introduction, having Cake tell Fionna a bedtime story (ironic concept, considering cats expect us to wait on them hand and foot). It’s a story about where volcanoes come from and at its heart is the idea of a fire maiden breathing life into boulders. Allegri’s writing is very compelling and poetic and offers an abstract take on the origin of volcanoes. There’s talk of “lava tears” that “flow out into the sea”; words phrased in just the right way that reel you in and sustain your interest. More importantly, these are words that can move. The rest of the dialogue is casual, everyday talk, opening the door for comedy, and working perfectly as a Count Basie like counterpoint to the poetic language.
The humor is a bit of an acquired taste. After dampening Fionna’s spirits with her dramatic take on volcanoes, Cake asks her, “Want me to do that thing you like where I make myself look like a big pile of doo-doo?” This form of satire may come across as crude to some. If you fall into this category, prepare yourself—there’s more. At one point, Cake creates nine swords Fionna must choose from to fight her arch-nemesis, the Ice Queen, who is terrorizing helpless “baby fire lions.”
Before elaborating further, let me just say the sword collection, written and illustrated by Allegri, is ingenious. It’s the shining moment of this issue for me. She makes weapons out of the most random objects conceivable. There is a “double ended sword,” a “knitted sword,” a “bird sword,” a “fishbone sword,” a “cake sword,” a “swingy sword,” a “flower sword,” a “broken bottle sword,” and the questionable “kitty litter sword.” Of course, the latter is the first the young heroine is drawn to due to the alarming question it raises; did Cake construct that blade from her own poo?
The inclusion of this sword was meant to stir a playful confrontation between Fionna and Cake. Whether or not it connects, depends entirely on the reader’s funny bone. It doesn’t bother me too much because it creates conflict, an essential element in fiction, and conflict steers the plot forward. Plus, it’s amusing to see how the feline critter reacts to her comrade’s inquiry. To say Cake the Cat becomes upset would be an understatement. She’s outraged! She screams, “Why would I touch my own poo?!”
Allegri further conveys this through yellow word bubbles inscribed with red text in all caps, denoting severe infuriation. It’s also used with the Ice Queen and her evil laugh.
This innovative way of illustrating emotions doesn’t stop there. Blue word bubbles suggest sincerity, such as when Fionna observes frantic “baby fire lions” and wishes to help. Pink ones connote imagination, like Cake creating swords for Fionna. The style of art definitely stays true to the cartoon it’s based on. Everything looks animated.
I’ll admit it—I prefer a more realistic approach with my comics. To me, characters are more relevant when they’re modeled in our image. That being said, however, the panels in this issue are illuminating. There’s much use of pastels, giving background frames a nice, fluorescent touch. One page that grabbed my attention had the Ice Queen gliding through the midnight air as she transformed “baby fire lions” into ice cubes. So focused on the pain she’s inflicting, The Ice Queen doesn’t notice a fiery figure swirling his way behind her. From the night sky, to the frozen victims below, to the rising fire, everything seems to glow.
I may not care for many comicbooks based on cartoons, but this one’s an exception. That’s all due to Allegri’s storytelling and unique art. The humor’s a bit dicey, but the creativity more than compensates for it.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article