Pullbox Reviews: Lands of Toons 1-3: Be kind to your cartoon characters… you don’t know how rough they have it

  • Lands of Toons 1-3
  • Created & Written by Kevin Chilcoat
  • Illustrated, Colored, & Lettered by
    • Hayley Russell
    • Andrew Morrice

Mangus the Monkey & Zookeeper Ted are at the top of the game. They follow their script, take their lumps, and if poor Ted takes more of a beating than Mangus it’s all in the name of show business. No one really stopped to wonder why they had to follow their script, following instructions to survive in their monochromatic world. It was just always the way it was done.

Then they discovered the Wall at the edge of their world. It appeared and with it the mystery of their existence deepened. What could be on the other side? Was it the End? Did the world go on? Could answers be found to explain their scripted reality? Ted began to wonder, but he couldn’t convince his friends to look past their boundaries… until people started to disappear.

Princess Myra had her own questions and doubts, even in the comfort of her colorful castle. Every day, she’s captured by the evil sorcerer Ulkra, then waits patiently to be rescued by the dashing Prince Julian. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Although everything seemed to be fine in the beginning, it became clear to Myra that she was always existing in Julian’s shadow, never in control of her life and always waiting to play her part. There had to be more to her world than that, but everyone around her seemed content to stay comfortably within their scripted roles.

Last week, I posted a preview for a Kickstarter campaign that was alive & kicking. This week, now that I’ve read the three issues kindly sent to me by Lands of Toons creator/writer Kevin Chilcoat, I’m declaring it one of the more left of center and layered approaches to storytelling I’ve seen in a while. It’s not just a whimsical lark into the lands of make believe and animation, although if you were just skimming the surface of the story it could read that way just fine. Go a little deeper, and Chilcoat has planted the seeds for some pretty deep questions of existentialism, pre-determinism, & societal roles.

The partnership of Mangus the Monkey & Zookeeper Ted works well as an example of a comedic partnership, like their live vaudevillian counterparts the Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello. When he’s not “on script”, Ted is nothing like the persona that’s been laid out for him. He’s thoughtful and intelligent, questioning the status quo long before it became apparent that there was any other way to live. For his part, Mangus was content to go with the flow, which isn’t really surprising considering he always came out of their misadventures looking great.

For her part, Princess Myra has come to understand that she serves no purpose in her Technicolor kingdom, aside from window dressing for the Prince Julian Show. Leaning into the comicbook vernacular, she’s “fridged” over and over again, giving the shallow and otherwise oblivious Julian his purpose in life as he rides in on his white horse to rescue the poor helpless damsel. It’s a less than satisfying life for Myra, who really would like to see more of the world around her, beyond the predetermined role laid out for her.

Chilcoat’s story wouldn’t work half as well if it not for the efforts of Hayley Russell & Andrew Morrice. As Lands of Toons moves from one chapter to the next, the illustrations do more than just shift from black and white to color. The style of the artwork changes, in the beginning resembling the earliest animations from Disney & Warner (which I always thought were kinda creepy… friggin dancing skeletons), and then moving into a more modern look that reminded me a lot of the old George of the Jungle cartoons. The balancing act Russell and Morrice have managed to pull off here is pretty awesome when you think about it. Without nailing that blend of difference in animation styles, especially as the characters start coming together and mingling, the story of cartoon characters stepping past their conventional boundaries to live their lives on their terms misses out on a pretty crucial component.

Over the three issues I’ve read so far, characters Mangus & Myra work as both the slapstick comedic hero and the seminal cartoon Princess, and as people who become aware of their perceived status but refuse to believe that’s all there is to life. At a time when societal roles (gender, race, social class, etc.) are called to task for their limitations, Lands of Toons illustrates the courage it takes to break loose, to make waves, to color outside the lines.

While maybe not for the very young, this would be a good story for kids old enough to appreciate the concept but young enough to miss the darker themes. Likewise, more mature readers can sit back and dive into the philosophical concepts of who or what defines us as US. Personally, I love a story that can engage on different levels. It’s not an easy feat to pull off, and when I find a great example like this I’m thankful that I have my tens of readers to share it with. The Kickstarter is still up and running, fully funded with 19 days to go, so hop on over and see if any of the available rewards (plenty of digital and print copies to be had) tickles you.

Final Score: 10/13

Issue 1 cover
Issue 2 cover
Issue 3 cover
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