REVIEW: I Hate Fairyland #1 is Absolutely Bananas

I Hate Fairyland, Skottie Young’s first creator owned comic at Image Comics, takes one of the most innocent premises for children’s stories and twists it into something darkly hilarious. It features Gertrude as a young girl who is swept off to Fairyland, a place of wonders and magic. She only needs to complete a supposedly simple quest to return home, but things do not go as planned. 27 years later she is still trapped in Fairyland and the body of a child; Gertrude is now a bitter, foul-mouthed wanderer with a mean streak more than twice her height. If there can be only one word to describe how I Hate Fairyland #1 turned out, it is this: BANANAS.

Young introduces Gertrude’s journey with the same sweet affectations and wide innocence found in so many banal versions of this story (tales like The Wizard of Oz and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe being the exceptions). Everything on the first page is soft pink colors, made repugnantly inviting by Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and overstuffed toy animals. As Gertrude plunges through the darkness, it’s unclear what will come next, but it’s still believable that this could be something to share with young readers. That expectation is literally dashed against the ground on page three, and never reemerges.

This is the moment when Young broadcasts the tone and conceit of I Hate Fairyland. Gertrude’s eyes pulling back out of her head as she screams “I’m gonna die!” is dark, cruel, and incredibly funny. The punchline here is no magic solution, but her plummeting body smashing against a brick road with a splash of blood. This page turn puts the guts of the comic on full display juxtaposing blood, anger, and fear against Young’s highly detailed depiction of a child’s wonderland. It’s all you need to know about what is coming next presented in a four page thesis, even concluding it with the proclamation “Welcome to Fairyland!”.

Fantasy makes for ripe ground to sow mockery, farce, and spectacle. Young isn’t interested in carefully crafting jokes for small snickers or thoughtful chuckles; he’s going for the throat and trying to tear out guffaws and belly laughs. Each page fires out jokes like the sentient cannon balls Gertrude uses to wreak havok. If one punchline doesn’t land, then it’s simply a matter of reading onto the next panel to arrive at another.

There are a lot more hits than misses in this fusillade. Young never leans on a single gag for long, quickly adjusting his focus between panels and varying the delivery and style of each new joke. Oversized violence worthy of Heavy Metal is followed by drastic understatement is followed by awful insinuations. The cohesive material between all of these comedic beats is their scale. In a world of endless imagination, there’s no reason to go small.

The only straining point for the variety of laughs offered in I Hate Fairyland comes from its premise. All of the humor stems from the combination of the lewd, vengeful Gertrude and her innocent surroundings (even the villain who threatens to use her bones in a roux feels somewhat childlike in comparison to what she actually accomplishes). This makes a 22 page comic fly by, but feels like it has covered a lot of ground in that space. It begs the question of how much can be made of this one idea before it begins to wear thin. While that’s not a problem in this initial installment, it’s one that lingers upon a second and third reading.

One element that continually impresses throughout the entire issue and shows no signs of fading is Young’s artwork. As evidenced by the seemingly endless popularity of his baby Marvel variant covers, there is something widely appealing about the style he has created. It blends cartoonish exaggeration with detailed imagination into something that fits absurdist violence just as easily as it does chibi superheroes. Young’s designs are what make each new scene in I Hate Fairyland feel like something truly unique. From Las Fungas to Ice Cream Island, these settings and their inhabitants are filled with features, making each seem fully populated and carefully planned (in spite of the madcap tone).

Young can simultaneously evoke gross, like the best of Mad Magazine’s regular artists, and cute in a significant way. Looking at the violence in I Hate Fairyland #1, you almost feel the need to stifle your laughter at the awful acts being committed against shining stars and stalwart shroom guards. There’s no holding back as teeth and gray matter are shed.

Beaulieu enhances this mash up of the adorable and horrific with his colors in I Hate Fairyland. His color schemes reflect pop sensibilities, with even night time settings pulsing with a dimmed neon purple. Fairyland is depicted as a consistently bright place in his palette, making the darkness of action stand out even more boldly.

The only time when I Hate Fairyland #1 falters is when this polar opposition between innocence and crudeness is backed up. Humor is the driving force of this comic, and that humor all derives from the insane distance between setting and action. Gertrude’s violent debauchery and sociopathic perspective is what makes her bizarrely charming. Yet there are moments when this is backed away from ever so slightly, and it breaks the comic’s spell just a little bit.

Nowhere is this more noticeable than in Gertrude’s dialogue. She occasionally uses phrases like “dickheads”, but replaces bluer phrases with words like “Hugger Fluffer” and “Fluff”. These insertions are uncharacteristically cutesy for a young girl who eats some living beings alive. Everything about Gertrude is shocking and brazen, and this element reads as if she is being censored. Young has mentioned that the series was originally titled F**k Fairyland (but without asterices, this is a family friendly site), instead of I Hate Fairyland. That decision to back away from an offensive, but far more fitting title, to make a more commercial series bespeaks a possible motivation for this dialogue as well. It’s a choice that removes some of I Hate Fairyland’s bite, and bite is what this comic relies upon.

I Hate Fairyland #1 doesn’t always crank its volume to 11, but when it does, it is a laugh riot. For all of the promise held in this simple premise, it’s only through Skottie Young’s brain that it truly comes to life. His imagination, attention to detail, and refined ear for crude humor combine to make something a humor comic that’s still funny even upon a third and fourth reading. Watching childhood dreams brutally slaughtered has never been more enjoyable.

Grade: B+

I Hate Fairyland #1 will be released on October 14, 2015.