Making the Set Up a Joy in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 22

by Ryan Mogge

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

When you need to get a group of characters to a strange location in order for a story to begin, the first act can be a slog. A savvy reader knows that all is not likely what it seems. Therefore, when a character gets a letter from an uncle they never met or when our heroes win a vague contest which offers a trip to a mysterious place as a prize, it can feel like a stall before the real story begins. Ryan North and Erica Henderson are able to avoid those pitfalls in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 22 by capitalizing on humanity’s love for dinosaurs.

Doreen and Nancy’s time in the Savage Lands paint the picture of a dream dino vacation. They run with the Gallimimuses, ride a tram through a diverse group of majestic creatures and even ride Rubeosauruses. Plus, Nancy gets a cute Latverian crush! On the final page of the issue, North reveals that the contest was not just about giving away a fantasy trip, but about collecting the best programmers at the Savage Lands in order to save it. The turn is not quite a surprise, but it makes the fun of the preceding issue even more precious since the story has become more complicated.

North and Henderson make the most of the time in the Savage Lands, offering both genuine awe for Nancy and Doreen as well as doses of trademark humor and punnery. What I found even more impressive is a sequence that didn’t have the inherent engagement of rubbing shoulders with extinct creatures. A full page is devoted to Doreen and Nancy’s uneventful travel.

The layout of the panels is visually interesting, with the depiction of Doreen and Nancy easily broken into two boxes by the people mover. While nothing happens on this page, it still evokes the sense of an endless trip: the preparation for a long haul, the hours of slow progress and then, things finally ending with that last cabin announcement. The top panel also offers great travel fashion tips, so I am completely on board. That pun was intentional and I have no shame. Sometimes the journey is its own reward.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

6 comments on “Making the Set Up a Joy in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 22

  1. They really, really, REALLY need to make Squirrel Girl’s art style halfway decent. I love the character, but every time I pick up one of the issues, the horrible art makes me put it back down.

    • Couldn’t disagree more. Henderson’s storytelling is top-notch, and a perfect match for North’s sense of humor. Very few artists can pull of comedic pacing this well.

      • I’ve been a fan of Henderson’s work since the beginning of Guilded Age, and I think it is very important to realise that the art is intentionally like this. It is a creative choice, not the result of incompetence.

        She has great visual storytelling, but her figure drawing is also pretty great. A different style than many use, but allows her to easily create distinctive figures. Few artists give their characters better silouettes than Henderson, allowing each to be visually interesting in their own unique way

        And then there is the way she will play fast and loose with the art to prioritise the effect on the audience over ‘artistic perfection’. Which is what all artists should do.

        I should get round to reading Squirrel Girl. I’v elove dthe arrtist for a long time, and the book seems up my alley…

        • Interesting. I only know her work from this series and Jughead, so I kind of assumed this was just her style, but either way, she makes some clever, idiosyncratic storytelling choices that always work. Her style obviously isn’t super flashy, so she doesn’t get the kind of praise folks like McNiven or Hughes or whoever, but I think it always serves the material well. I wish more comics fans appreciated the storytelling aspects more than they do the superficial stylistic details.

        • I’d say Guilded Age uses a lot of the same styles as Squirrel Girl (though Henderson uses some stuff in Guilded Age colours that arent done in Squirrel Girl). Ultimately, this sort of thing is Henderson’s look.

          By Fast and Loose, I was talking about how she will happily simplify certain elements of the art in a panel because that creates a better effect that doing it ‘properly’. SOmetimes, the simpler you draw Bandit Keynes’ smile, the more effective it is

  2. I’d compare Henderson’s art in Squirrel Girl to Gordon Gano’s vocals on the first Femmes album. Incredibly great at what they are trying to do, extraordinarily distinct, and able to be disliked intensely by some, including some calling it “horrible” or falling short of even “halfway decent”

    Henderson certainly will never affect me as much as Gano did (music has always been more important to me than visual art), and little compares to early Violent Femmes anyway, but I think those familiar with both will at least understand what I’m getting at.

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