June 09, 2011


Cut! “Baby Blues” Scrapbook 27. By Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Babymouse #14: Mad Scientist. By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. Random House. $6.99.

Squish No. 1: Super Amoeba. By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. Random House. $6.99.

     The consistency of Baby Blues is a wonderful thing. Through more than two dozen “Scrapbook” collections, a pile of larger-size “Treasury” books and a couple of gift-book volumes, artist Rick Kirkman and writer Jerry Scott have kept this family strip fresh, funny and, from time to time, genuinely insightful. All those qualities are on display in Cut! – whose title refers not to anything with a sharp edge but to Zoe’s filming of one of Hammie’s outlandish extreme stunts, which has come to an ignominious end. The stunts may end, but the amusement continues here, as when Wanda reflects every mom’s occasional thoughts as she bemoans her baby daughter’s nap time: “Sigh. I wish Wren would wake up,” and then, just minutes later, finds herself thinking, “Sigh. I wish I had some time to myself.” Talk about being reflective of real life – but amusingly so. Wren is as prominent in this collection as her older siblings, at one point crawling over to Hammie after Zoe writes on her belly, “My brother is a dope,” and at another learning sign language, which Zoe interprets during a meal as indicating that “the chicken is tough, and the applesauce is grainy.” For his part, Hammie has a somewhat different relationship with food, imagining himself (in one especially hilariously drawn Sunday strip) as a superhero who “could turn invisible, fly, and one of my fists was a frozen yogurt dispenser – a frozen yogurt dispenser that also fires lasers!” As for father Darryl, he is at his best, or worst, when he is a punch line, as when Zoe comes into her parents’ bedroom to announce that she is scared because “I had a dream where I woke up in a room with some crazy-haired, squinty-eyed, weird-smelling thing,” and half-asleep Wanda tells her, “That’s not a dream, it’s marriage” (and we see barely awake Darryl at the side of the panel grunting, “Huh?”). Wanda gets some of the best lines in this particular book, as when she can’t stop talking to Darryl in rhyme after “Dr. Seuss overload,” ending this particular strip by saying, “Yes, reading is fine! Do we have any wine?” Parents who don’t laugh out loud at that (it’s funny even if you’re a non-drinker, so lighten up, okay?) may prefer Hammie and Wren wrapped in toilet paper and behaving like mummies, or the babysitter with an agent, or Hammie and Zoe competing in “counter-tattling.” Baby Blues is a strip that repeatedly makes parents feel as if Kirkman and Scott are plugged directly into real families’ lives that just happen to be funnier than one’s own family’s life.

     There’s nothing realistic, or intended as realistic, about the Babymouse series, but it too has its own sense of charming consistency – although not at quite as high a level. The sister-and-brother team of Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm manages, with the 14th Babymouse entry, to create a spinoff series called Squish, featuring an amoeba (created by Babymouse and fond of cupcakes) whose baseball cap makes it obvious that his adventures are shamelessly pitched at boys (while Babymouse’s are and have always been more girl-oriented). Both these books get (+++) ratings: Mad Scientist is a little too focused on creating Squish and, as a result, has a less intricate and amusing plot than some other Babymouse books, while the first Squish entry (which features green tint rather than the pink of the Babymouse series) is a touch too silly and formulaic, with little to distinguish Squish as a central character. Babymouse, after all, has her daydreams and her messy whiskers – in Mad Scientist, the daydreams include several involving cupcakes and one with a “Star Trek” basis, while the whiskers become the subject of a humiliating scientific experiment by Babymouse’s enemy, Felicia Furrypaws. Squish, aside from his cap, has only the standardized dad (an amoeba wearing a tie), a mooching buddy named Pod, and a scatterbrained friend named Peggy – plus bad guy Lynwood, who isn’t much of a counterweight to Squish’s goodness (he tends to disgorge what he ingests). Even the narrator, a ubiquitous force in the Babymouse books, hasn’t quite found his groove in the Squish series. Still, there are enough amusing elements in Mad Scientist to keep existing Babymouse fans happy, and Super Amoeba has sufficient potential to indicate that, even without legs, Squish may yet hit his stride.

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