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Review: ‘Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula’

Princess DecomposiaPrincess Decomposia and Count Spatula
By Andi Watson
First Second; $15

In the highly-abstracted, black-and-white cartoon underworld of Andi Watson’s latest original graphic novel, signified by a stark white castle before black clouds, young Princess Decomposia is a reluctant regent. She’s running the underworld for her bed-ridden father, the manipulative, prune-faced king who spends all day, every day in bed, complaining of ill health–and reading about the latest in food fads when no one’s looking.

So it’s Decomposia who ends up with armloads of paperwork and a schedule full of meetings every day, her main interaction with her father coming when she brings him his meals. These he invariably complains about and ultimately refuses, being the world’s–well, underworld’s–most finicky eater. She invariably urges him to get out of bed, and he invariably declines.

When we first meet the characters, the most pressing concern of Decomposia’s is finding a new cook to replace the old one, who has understandably quit in frustration. Enter Count Spatula, an energetic, charming vampire with no fangs–they had to be removed when he developed cavities, you see, as he craves sugar rather than blood.

He’s magic in the kitchen, creating such desserts as a lemon drizzle cake, which takes the form of a cake so light and fluffy it hovers over the heads of diners like a little rain cloud, and sprinkles them with a shower of lemony sweetness. He’s even better at lifting Decomposia’s spirits, however, and the pair strike up an immediate friendship.

That doesn’t sit well with the king, however, and when he finally decides to take some action in the running of the kingdom, it’s to make Decomposia’s life unhappier again. But don’t worry overmuch; everything works out for everyone in the end.

The tone and style of Watson’s story and art here is most highly reminiscent of his Glister, Gum Girl and Midnight Princess books; charming and all-ages, more heavily inspired by the children’s literature of last century than modern comics.

His underworld is a fun mish-mash of horror characters, rendered in Halloween decoration friendliness, their potential scariness further reduced by Watson’s now calligraphic cartooning. (If you trace the whole history of Watson’s career, a fun and worthwhile endeavor, one thing you’ll notice is that as the years and project pass, he gets more and more done with fewer and fewer lines.)

Decomposia looks a bit like Wednesday Addams with bat wing-shaped pigtails. The tall, thin Count has a head like a perfectly shaped inverted raindrop. The king is almost literally prune-faced, his head looking like a bit of dehydrated fruit with a Mr. Potato Head nose stuck on.

The denizens of the underworld are more greatly varied. The castle staff consist of zombies, mummies, and Clove, a sort of garlic sprite. Decomposia meets with delegations of Lycanthropes, led by a well-dressed wolf who looks like Watson’s version of the one from Tex Avery’s Golden Age animated Red Riding Hood re-telling; another of The Yokai, exotically designed Japanese ghosts and goblins; and another with the general of the king’s zombie army, who is dressed like a toy soldier.

Watson’s world-building is, as always, delightful, and the number of diverse characters inspired by such diverse sources all filtered through Watson’s style makes this an excellent example of his work.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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