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Review: ‘A Goofy Guide to Penguins’

A Goofy Guide to Penguins

A Goofy Guide to Penguins
Writer: Jean-Luc Coudray
Artist: Philippe Coudray
Toon Books; $12.95

French cartoonist Phillipe Coudray has already produced a trio of books featuring incredibly clever gag strips starring his Benjamin Bear character for Toon Books. For his latest work from the publisher, he leaves the temperate forest and its funny, furry woodland creatures and turns his attention south–very south–for a bear-less book about one of nature’s most inherently amusing animals: The penguin.

He is joined by fellow French cartoonist and fellow Coudray Jean-Luc, his twin brother. The division of labor is pretty straightforward, with Jean-Luc writing and Philippe drawing.

The format is quite different from that of the Benjamin Bear books, which were full-page, many-paneled strips. The Coudrays’ Goofy Guide is landscape format, and each page features two large panels side-by-side, devoted telling a penguin joke. These are mostly presented as fake facts, so that the proceedings read like David Attenborough by way of Gary Larson.

Readers familiar with Philippe’s Benjamin Bear books probably won’t be surprised to learn that many of the 30 two-panel jokes are purely visual in nature, requiring little or no verbal set-up and often achieving their effect simply by showing something in the second panel that comments on or transforms the way a reader understands what they saw in the first panel. For example, one page features a panel with an earthbound penguin looking at sea gulls flying, and it is immediately followed by a panel of the penguin striking a flying pose and seemingly soaring…only the presence of a fish in the lower corner of the panel indicating that the penguin is, of course, actually just swimming.

Others have a more traditional joke structure, with the first panel asking some sort of question that is then amusingly answered in the second panel. A good example of this type might be asking why penguins don’t grow flowers next to a panel of one regarding a flower that has somehow pushed its way up through the ice, and, in the next panel, we see the penguin attempting to “water” it with a watering can, which only sprinkles snow that buries the flower.

The stars of the strips, the penguins (and the occasional fish, whale or sea gull), never speak, but a baby penguin paces around the borders of all the panels, providing commentary and the occasional set-up in dialogue bubbles (“Why do penguins need a diving board? …To break the ice!”). At times this little dialogue can be a bit redundant, given what perfect mimes the Coudrays’ penguins are, but given that the book’s primary audience is little kids just starting to learn how to read, at least a few words per page is necessary.

Given what I just described, it might sound like Jean-Luc and Philippe Coudray are the last people anyone should ask about penguins if they wanted to learn about the birds (as opposed to simply getting some funny comics about them). But not so! Following the 30 gag strips is a fairly dense two-page article entitled “Amazing But True: 100% Genuine, Real Facts About Penguins!” The transition to the article, which reads a little like a grade-school report on the animals, is “And after all this goofiness…”

A Goofy Guide to Penguins is therefore educational, and kids (of any age) can learn from it…and not just that Philippe Coudray has a brother with an equally goofy sense of humor, or that penguins make excellent comics characters.

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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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