I was among the many fans last year who lamented the end of Matt Groening’s BONGO Comics last October. Until the end, the publisher of The Simpsons (and it’s many meta-spinoffs), Futurama, and SpongeBob Squarepants published high-quality books that nurtured the talent of many writers, artists, letterers, and colorists. What made the news of Bongo’s closing so shocking was its suddenness; one doesn’t expect something to close with such finality and with little warning.
But while readers may have been saddened by the end of Bongo, they will have much to celebrate with the launch of Bapper Books, Groening’s new publisher that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con this year. Furthermore, the publisher’s first book, based on the Netflix series Disenchantment (which returns this September) has the same anarchic and pun-heavy tone that populated all the Bongo comix of yore.
Indeed, Disenchantment: Untold Tales picks up (sort of) where the show left off (no spoilers here!). Following the dyspeptic and deeply misanthropic adventures of Princess Bean, Elfo the Elf, and Luci the Demon, the oversized hardcover is a handsome introduction to the world of the show as well as a nice expansion of the universe. Or, as Groening pithily notes: “[Y]our favorite fantasy freaks doing stuff we couldn’t fit in to the TV show.”
Disenchantment is set in a fantasy world and it plays with the tropes that with which we are familiar. There are peasants, trolls, a hobbit or two, magic, and kings with a propensity for (hilarious) cruelty. The book follows two major arcs: the first has Bean and her friends going on a “Pub crawl”; the second seeks to solve the diplomatic woes between the primary locale of Dreamland and the neighboring Dankmire. Needless to say, while these set-ups seem simple, they are ripe with dark humor — much of it supplied by Luci, who never misses an opportunity to stir up nihilistic trouble for kicks—and dismantling of fantasy norms.
For the most part, the stories are solid and the puns are clever. There is a certain coldness to the book, which is probably because the original show also has a bit of a bitter edge to it. Unlike the Simpsons or Futurama, the emotional elements of Disenchantment haven’t had a chance to bloom fully. The subplot around Bean’s true mother is not mentioned in the book and many of the undertones of lament are notably absent. On the other hand, this is a book meant to introduce new readers not only to the world of the show, but to the new publisher as well. On this latter front, we should rejoice! The art and satire are still perfectly intact. This bodes well for the future of the line.
At the time of this writing, however, there is no retail release date of the Untold Tales.
In his introduction, Groening writes that: “We are scheming to blow your minds with some heavy emotions, and you even shed a tear or two between the jaw-dropping cliffhangers.”
This comic edition doesn’t blow minds so much as it fixes a hole in the market for irreverent adventures of overbite-prone characters. It’s a welcome return.