Greg: Imagination, particularly as a kid, is a powerful, revealing thing. It’s your subconscious untethered, playing make-believe and laying out your attitudes and ideals in surprisingly intimate detail. When I was a kid, my friends were keen on playing the most violent versions of Dragon Ball Z and Star Wars possible — all fighting, all the time. I was more concerned with making sure the good guys stayed good and the bad guys — only if they really deserved it — got beat up and, ideally, learned their lesson. In this first issue, we get a glimpse into the fantasies and insecurities of Tina, Louise, and Gene Belcher, as Bob’s Burgers lays out three stories of imagination.
Tina’s story is the most explicitly imaginary, as it’s presented as “erotic friend fiction” (a perfect extension of the sexual maturity and curiosity Tina exhibits in the show). It’s a simple story of good triumphing over evil with the help of her newfound friends — all of whom happen to be horses. Louise’s story, given the delightful subtitle of an “unsolved mystery and curious curiosity” (eat your heart out, Dean Cain), is a spooky tale of classmates becoming brainwashed into cheese brains by class pictures — until the twist ending that reveals, nope, that camera was just a camera. Finally, Gene’s musical story is a tale both cautionary and uplifting — if there’s a solar vortex, maybe give the full-sized burger costume a rest, but if you become fused to it, it can come in handy during a polar vortex!
When I first heard of this run being produced, I immediately emailed Patrick and Drew and called “dibs”, because I’m such a fan of the FOX animated comedy this is based on — and if the countless GIFs and subtitled screen captures traded on Tumblr are an indication, so is the rest of the Internet. Thus, I am glad to say this issue betrays none of the show’s original comedic spirit, which I might characterize as being brash and absurd, yet grounded and rooted in genuine familial love. In fact, like any good adaptation, this issue takes the football of the show’s comedy and runs it into the end zone of the comedy inherent in the medium of comic books for a touchdown that’s more satisfying than the separate parts (Sports metaphor!). A perfect example comes courtesy of Brad Rader’s artwork (assisted by Kimball Shirley, Tyler Garrison, and Anthony Aguinaldo; credited as “additional artists”) in the Tina story; I love her plain, blank, glasses-adorned face contrasted with the highly stylized, anime-esque look of the Equestranauts.
As much as I’d love to spend this piece listing all of the things that made me laugh out loud in this issue (and holy I Pity The Cool Ranch Burger, there are a lot), I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how real the thing gets in terms of childhood anxieties and feelings. I touched on the thrust of Tina’s story briefly in the previous picture, but man, is it a surprisingly touching portrait of childhood loneliness that got to me.
Louise’s highlights the sheer terror and anxiety involved in picture day with blunt accuracy (One time the person taking my picture told me I looked like a Frankenstein, and I nearly started crying. I feel your pain, Louise). Moreover, this story works as an entry to the genre of science-fiction-that-also-works-as-an-allegory-of-people-losing-individuality; a comedic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, if you will. While the hard left turn ending is funny in how it subverts our expectations, there’s a part of me that wanted Louise to be right, and this story to simply be a self-contained horror story.
Gene’s story provokes tons of empathy in me as well, as it highlights what a habitual people-pleaser he is, and what a strong desire to be needed he has. Even during a heat wave with his entire family telling him to come in, he stays outside in his burger costume because it’s the right thing to do. Even after his freak fusion, his fantastical resolution is not to become unfused, but rather to make his sisters happy by being a human/burger sled. We’re trafficking in the kid’s unbound imagination, and even then he thinks of others before himself. What a kid, that Gene!
What do you think, Spencer? Are you a fan of the show, and if so, did you think this issue got the job done? How did you play as a kid, and what do you think that reveals about you (I’m your Freudian therapist now, by the way)? And, like me, do you hope the Belcher parents get a chance to shine next issue, beyond the interstitial glimpses they get here? I, for one, would love to watch some TV dramas and drink wine with Linda.
Spencer: Well, Doctor Greg, I was the kid that anthropomorphized his toys, afraid that I might hurt their feelings if I didn’t play with them all equally. What does that reveal about me? Well, besides the fact that I’m a lunatic, I think it’s an indicator of my strong sense of fairness, justice, and right and wrong; I don’t like to see people get screwed over or not get the attention they deserve, even if they’re technically inanimate (I swear, Toy Story ruined my entire generation).
Anyway, Greg, I am a huge fan of Bob’s Burgers — which is easily one of my Top Two Favorite Comedies airing on television right now — and I think part of why I like the show so much is actually because of that sense of fairness. Besides an occasional rare episode that feels too cruel, Bob’s Burgers is one of the more kind and accepting shows around; despite their flaws and clashes, the Belcher family loves each other unconditionally and don’t just put up with each other’s various quirks, they often actively encourage them. It’s such a refreshing alternative to shows that derive the bulk of their humor from cruelty, and I’m quite happy to say that the Bob’s Burgers comic follows this same path, embracing the weirdness of the Belcher clan while also showing how they stick together (even if Louise, for example, needs to come up with excuses for her sentimentality).
Honestly, it’s impressive how in-tune the comic is with the characterization and comedy stylings of the television series. Greg already pointed out how Tina’s story touches on her awkwardness and coming-of-age and Gene’s on his people-pleasing ways, but Louise’s touches on one of my favorite aspects of the character: the juxtaposition of her budding megalomania with the fact that she’s still only nine-years-old. Louise is the character who, for example, gives Tina the kick in the butt she needs to sneak out of the house and go to a concert, but then tries to get there by riding a big-wheel on the interstate; I always get a good laugh out of seeing a character as competent as Louise get let down by her own inexperience. Of the three tales presented in this issue Louise’s has the least imagination involved, and it’s easy to see why she’d be convinced that her friends are being brainwashed (especially with her preexisting bias towards photo day), but at the end of the day she’s still a nine-year-old girl who didn’t catch on to the fact that the camera’s flash was leaving them dazed. I dunno, I’ve always loved the humanizing touch this bit of characterization gives a character who otherwise risks becoming overwhelming, and the fact that Rachel Hastings (who wrote this segment) caught onto this aspect of Louise gives me a lot of faith in how she, and the rest of the creative team, will handle the franchise in the issues to come.
Of course, the fact that this book is laugh-out-loud funny also helps bolster that faith. It can be tricky transitioning a television show into a comic book; Bob’s Burgers (the comic) doesn’t have access to many of Bob Burgers’ (the show) most potent tools (the talented voice cast and their improv skills, the consistently inspired musical numbers, the way scenes so often devolve into a riotous cacophony of shouting), yet it doesn’t lose its sense of humor in the slightest. Part of that comes from the focus on characterization I already mentioned, but part of it is also just the fact that the creative team are aware of the medium they’re writing for and how to use it to their advantage.
This is a classic Tina gag through and through, but I feel like it works better as a comic than it would on the screen; the way the panels break the scene up, giving emphasis to each name and to each of Xander’s incredulous stares, just makes each beat increasingly funnier in a way that filming this in a single take might not.
Bob’s Burgers also gains a lot from the space the artistic teams are given to help make the stories their own. Look at the cover, for example: it’s bizarre and stylized and drawn from an angle you’d never see on the show, but this may actually be the closest the book comes to capturing the energy and chaos of the show despite the relatively static medium. All of the interior artists stick closer to the house-style, but still throw in personal touches that gives the stories charm and character.
The scrunched faces artists Frank Forte, Liza Epps, and Tyler Garrison give Louise here are as funny as any verbal joke in the issue, but despite any exaggeration on their part, it’s still immediately recognizable as Bob’s Burgers.
If this title has any weaknesses thus far, it’s in the format. As Greg pointed out, we see very little of Bob and Linda, and while the kids are fantastic and I enjoy this short-story format so far, it is a bit of a bummer that Bob and Linda have such a minimal role, especially since the two pages they get to themselves are some of the funniest work in the issue (seriously, Linda’s possible alcoholism has got to be one of my favorite running gags in the series, so of course her page of wine suggestions is phenomenally funny). Still, there’s always room to tinker with the format in the future; for now, Bob’s Burgers captures the humor, charm, and spirit of the show while also playing to its new strengths as a comic book. Score one for Bob’s Burgers fans everywhere.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?