Ethelbert is the king of the tiny country Portocristo. He is also six-years-old.
That’s the premise of Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme’s Tiny Tyrant comics. It’s a premise that, viewed from one angle, seems high concept in a Hollywood pitch for a kids comedy kind of way, and, viewed from another, seems like a pretty incisive observation about the way adults cater to the demands of children, often to the point of foolishness…albeit an observation taken to its humorous extreme.
That extreme is where Trondheim, who writes the feature, keeps the narrative, as not only is Ethelbert a spoiled brat, but he’s a spoiled brat with absolute, unquestionable power over all of the adults in his world. They must all always bend to his whims, no matter how ridiculous those whims may be. Hilarity, therefore, often ensues.
The half-dozen stories collected in Tiny Tyrant Vol. 1: The Ethelbertosaurus were previously collected by First Second in a 2007; this collection is apparently a new, more album-like format that seems to serve the material very well.
The title story involves Ethelbert’s attempts to get a really cool dinosaur named after him, upon discovering that a new species a paleontoligist discovered in the kingdom was a tiny, bird-sized one. This involves forcing his scientists to genetically recreate a dinosaur and to time travel (I guess there is something to be said for iron-fisted dictatorship after all).
In the others, Ethelbert tests his new bodyguard by repeatedly trying to get himself killed, participates in a race/pet show for heads of state in which he learns a little about girls, demands to be taken to see Santa Claus at the North Pole, falls in and out of love with a popular comic book series and replaces all the children in his kingdom with robot duplicates of himself.
There’s a charming anything-can-happen spirit about the stories, despite the small cast and tight premise. Perhaps, as in the old similarly wide-open Scrooge McDuck comics, it’s the presence of unlimited resources at the protagonists’ disposal?
Much like Melvin Monster, which I discussed last week, Tiny Tyrant is an all-ages book, but all-ages in a specific, two-pronged sort of way. Trondheim’s gag-filled scripts are silly and light-hearted, but likely say different things to different readers, depending on whether they’re closer to Ethelbert’s age or the ages of his many long-suffering advisors and assistants.
The book offers great pleasure far beyond the stories themselves though, thanks to artist Fabrice Parme’s work, and therefore is certainly a great deal for adults to appreciate on a craft level as well. One-part classic cartooning chops and one-part animation inspiration, the pages move with a remarkable life of their own, and every well-chosen line serves a purpose. This is one of those books that I’ll read cover to cover, and then go back and just stare at individual panels to admire the way Parme draws the lines on a building, or the fold in a garment, or the expressions of background characters.
You don’t need to take my word on the virtues of the book, however; First Second has the title story available to be read online in its entirety here.