When a comic is prefaced with a special thanks to Todd Solondz (director of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness), it’s safe to assume you’re in for a work of thorny humor. Angsty eccentricity is the sap of the suburban comedy, but writer Ken Kristensen and artist M.K. Perker’s Todd the Ugliest Kid on Earth trades in angst for innocence in what is surely the boldest, most controversial book released so far this year.
Issue one of this new mini-series sets up a colorful ensemble of complicated characters who each represent a different mindset of suburban America. Todd is the upbeat optimist, a kid so ugly he wears a bag over his head, but you know he’s always smiling regardless. Todd’s father is a patriotic hypocrite and his mother is described as believing “she deserves everything Jackie Kennedy had, minus the Dallas thing.” Kristensen introduces all of his characters with such damning traits. Among these introductions ironically, is one character named simply for what he is rather than who he is, and described without much snark. Maniac Killer is a former producer of the 1990’s series Kids Incorporated who now teaches organ lessons to kids and loved the Kathryn Stockett novel The Help. Oh, and he kills kids too. Yeah, this is no Archie comic.
Todd the Ugliest Kid on Earth is far from a the happy, animated tale you’d expect at first glimpse. Todd is a young kid living a pretty unpleasant life. His parents are trashy deadbeats, he’s incessantly picked on and it’s suggested that he’s the ugliest kid on earth (though we never see beyond the paper bag). When a maniac killer is on the loose, the Manic Killer, kids begin to disappear around Todd. When the killer confronts Todd, he refuses to take him, appealed by whatever lies behind the bag. Perker draws Killer as a hulking presence with awkwardly wide shoulders, long trench-coat and a tiny bald head peeking out from behind goggles. Maniac Killer is a killer of children. We see Killer at home, heads of his young victims adorning his organ. This is where this seemingly innocent story takes a turn into the dark territory Solondz often entertains in his own works.
The humor in Todd is sharp and biting. Disturbing moments are drawn with a whimsy that shocks the senses into a strange desensitization that very well could be Kristensen’s motive. Suburban dark-comedies like Todd exist to satirize the everyday with visions of evil and neglect filtered through the eyes of an innocent. Todd is a simple and ultimately good person in search of any kind of connection he can possibly make in the world. Behind his bag, Todd is numb to the harshness of that world, a harshness that is often funny, but more often terrifying. I’ll be interested to see if Todd is able to find that connection in future issues.