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This week, I review Todd and Penguin, by David Wright.
Todd and Penguin is probably the cleanest comic I read online. In a day and age when many webcomics are trying to be "cutting edge," Todd and Penguin remains simple, entertaining, and family-friendly. Many comics include gratuitous sex, violence, and political viewpoints that simply feel rage-inspired; Todd and Penguin is just plain cute fun.
Some people might take it as an insult that I compare Todd and Penguin to Garfield, but my intentions are good. Hear me out. Penguin is a cute, lovable creature who has such an innocent nature that he doesn't understand why experiencing the magic of room service could be a burden to his friend Todd (I hesitate to call him an "owner"). Penguin's idea of friendship is based around doing kindnesses like giving him a cookie. It's not that he doesn't care about the people around him -- he's nothing if not friendly -- but he just has a simpler view of life. At one point, Garfield had a similar innocent quality. Garfield has moved away from its original cuteness (or at least the majority of webcomic artists and readers seem to feel it has); Todd and Penguin has retained it.
Recently, cartoonist David Wright poked fun at himself by having Penguin create his own webcomic. A strip in which "Super Penguin" was trashed by a well-known "rival" cartoonist had Penguin in tears, and I was concerned that a little bit of Penguin's innocence would be forever lost. Instead, the strip ended with a tear and a hug. While some webcomic artists would deride such an ending as trite, I was satisfied -- it was a comfortable feeling from a comfortable comic.
Penguin is one of the most adorable characters online, just begging to be made into a Saturday morning cartoon and a plush toy. David Wright is one of the nicest cartoonists I've had the pleasure of communicating with. If you want a comic that will challenge your expectations and push the envelope, keep moving -- but if you want a comic that reminds you that family-friendly doesn't have to mean stale, Todd and Penguin is your prime example.
UPDATE: As part of my intent to be thorough while reviewing comics, I have been rifling through the Todd and Penguin archives. I feel it necessary to adjust my review. However, rather than change what I've said, I think I can be clear with a brief addendum.
Penguin is certainly cute and sweet, but he is by no means stupid. He is intelligent enough in the earlier comics to make wry comments about self-help books and commercialism. The strip is not pure saccharine, and my characterization of Penguin shouldn't make you believe that it's all sunshine and roses. Penguin is a character who is simultaneously wise and innocent, able to see others' foibles while still blissfully unaware of his own. However, it is the cuteness that has won my heart in this strip. A penguin who can mock his housemate and have a friendship with a schoolgirl that seems entirely contingent on her bringing him cookies may seem less than perfectly cute, but this same penguin has "Mr. Bear," a stuffed animal that he treats as real. When Mr. Bear "thanks" Todd for making him ravioli, it's cute, and it's funny, and the strip works.
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