There are certain things in this world that are universally loved: Dr. Seuss, The Big Lebowski, Star Wars, bathroom humor, The Flintstones, plotlines that make no sense, and The Jim Henson Company. (Yes, you all love those things. Shut up.) Putting them all together in a bag, mashing it with a hammer, and swinging it over your head results in Henson’s latest comic book venture, The Skrumps.
The Skrumps are sculptor/illustrator John Chandler’s love child. Chandler created the characters to be sold as vinyl toys and storybooks, and The Jim Henson Company bought them out a few years ago to build them into a franchise for an animated series and loads of merchandising.
We initially reported on the Skrumps waaaay back in January, 2007 (in one of the very first ToughPigs articles written by Ryan Roe!). As Ryan said, The Jim Henson Company hoped that Skrumps characters like “Wishbone” and “Skrumpy” would become household names after the release of their YouTube music videos (one of which is seen below). As you probably know by now, that didn’t quite happen.
But now the Skrumps are back! And thankfully not in the form of Henson’s motion capture puppetry (which seems to work really well for something like Sid the Science Kid, but not so much for something like The Skrumps or Wilson and Ditch). No, now we’re seeing the Skrumps in a whole new medium: comic books.
Archaia Comics, who are already on our good side for bringing us the phenomenal Fraggle Rock comic book, as well as the highly anticipated Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Storyteller, and A Tale of Sand comics, have published a Skrumps graphic novel titled “The Mooch Steps Up His Game”, which stars everyone’s third-favorite Skrump, The Mooch (and his game).
The story begins with Jeff Lebowski The Mooch, notorious in Skrump Land for mooching off the other Skrumps (get it???), and his quest to score some “treats” in the form of free food. After an unsuccessful visit to a landfill and the local diner (where his friend Treats works, which adds the confusion of his friend sharing the same name as the object of his desire), Mooch finds himself at the pet store where he buys a giant Skrump named Tom. After being evicted from his apartment, Mooch and Tom live the hobo life and (spoiler warning) get a little retribution in the form of some deus ex machina.
Didja follow all that? Don’t worry if it seems a little disjointed, it’s not just you. Heck, it’s probably not just John Chandler either. The “story” has little glue to keep it all together, and reads like a series of story middles with no beginnings or endings. And really, the narrative (or lack thereof) isn’t even among the worst problems of the book.
Let’s start with the character designs. They’re definitely very Dr. Seuss-inspired, with loose lines and interesting-looking creatures. But Chandler (who also illustrates the book) doesn’t quite know when to stop, making each page a Where’s Waldo-esque mess for the eyes with lots of colors and lines and spots and stripes and curls and antennae. There’s nothing to make the characters stand out from the backgrounds, and nothing that suggests where your eye should be focusing. If the book were any longer than 37 pages, I’d guarantee more than a few headaches out there.
Chandler’s other illustration problem is that he created so many interesting-looking characters without knowing how to draw them in more than two positions each. As a result, every frame looks like clip art, with each character always looking straight ahead or directly to the left or right. Actually, Chandler could’ve saved himself a lot of time by using clip art, rather than redrawing the same figures over and over again.
There’s also the strange way that the characters speak. Chandler uses a lot of mid-90s slang like “Homies”, “What up, my brother”, and “Back off, fool”. (Note: This is only okay if John Chandler happens to also be L.L. Cool J.) All of that plus a bag of chips-full of toilet humor makes for a script written by someone who’s so desperately trying to sound cool, yet lives far, far behind the times.
As a side note, the aproned fellow to the right is Skraps, who you might recognize as Dexter Jettster from Attack of the Clones. Skrump gets around!
My favorite part of the book is immediately after Mooch gets kicked out of the diner. He decides that since he has no money for food, he should buy a pet. Because that’s what any of us would do, ammiright? And then after recovering from whiplash from that sudden story shift, Mooch tries to buy a “Funny Little Dude”, which just so happens to look like a miniature version of the pet store owner (both of whom are seen on your left), which raises many questions of morality and legality in Skrump Land in regards to child trafficking and potential abuse. Apparently all of the pets in the store not only look like smaller Skrumps, but they can all speak too, raising the question of what truly separates master and pet. I’ll wait a moment while you consult your philosophy textbooks.
In all seriousness, I do have a favorite part of the book. I dug Mooch’s piggy bank, who is suffering from a severe identity crisis. With lines like, “What is my purpose in life?”, “I feel empty inside”, and “Who am I? WHAT am I? WHY am I?”, he quickly became my favorite Skrump, beating Bubbles the Bubble-loving Skrump by a mile. Sure, it’s a little “Flintstones-ish”, but it’s the only gag in the book that I found remotely clever.
The thing is, I have no idea what to make of The Skrumps. It’s not pretty enough to be a piece of art, it’s not funny enough to be a great kids book, and it’s not clever enough to be a critically revered graphic novel. But more than anything, I’m left wondering what The Jim Henson Company ever saw in it. I suppose they could’ve seen some connection between the wriggly designs and Jim Henson’s Doodles, but the nonsensical stories and lack of focus don’t leave much hope for a successful franchise. But if that’s the sort of thing the Hensons want to spend their money on, my nephew has a great story for sale. It’s about a tractor and a kitty and a giant green circle and what I think is a candy bar with spikes.
So, would I recommend this comic book? Only if you’re the type to own everything with the Jim Henson Company logo on it, which I hope for your sake you’re not. I’m sure you’ll be able to find many other options worth buying if you find yourself at your local comic shop with $6 to burn. Might I suggest, oh, anything??
Click here to take a steaming Skrump on the ToughPigs forum!
by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com