Buy This Book: ‘The Wonderful World Of Lisa Simpson’ #1
It might just be me, but I have to imagine that for a lot of people my age, it's still a little surprising to see Bongo's commitment to producing kid-friendly Simpsons comics. Pleasantly surprised, you understand, but still, I remember being a kid when that show started, and I have fond memories of both the parental outcry about how the Simpsons were actively destroying family values and the truly hilarious explosion of bootleg merchandise that followed its initial popularity. And yet, here we are, with a long-running line of comics that uses some of the most popular characters in any medium of the last quarter century to tell stories directed squarely at younger readers, and does it with a consistently high level of quality.
The latest offering: The Wonderful World of Lisa Simpson #1, a one-shot anthology of stories focusing on the Simpsons' often beleaguered middle child, told by a roster of all-star creators, mostly women, and it is great.
I think it's fair to say that Lisa's often the most overlooked member of the Simpson family when it comes to getting starring roles. Like Marge, she tends to fall more easily into being a foil for Bart and Homer than starring in her own adventures. Admittedly, she's probably had her share in the scheme of things -- it has, after all, been twenty-five years -- but they still seem rare enough that it always feels like a treat when we get them.
That's exactly what's going on in this issue as three teams put Lisa directly into the spotlight, and in a pretty shocking result for anthology titles (in my experience, at least), all three stories are genuinely fantastic, and well worth reading. The different approaches they take, and the way they just flat-out get weird over the course of the issue, is more like one of those great "Treehouse of Horror" comics than anything else, and it all works really well together. They're fun just to see, too, if only for how three different artists apply their own style to the classic and easily recognizable designs that we all know from TV.
To start with, there's Heather Nuhfer and Nina Matsumoto's "The Pyramids of Lisa," which operates on the simple, almost Archie-esque premise of lisa imagining what life would've been like if she was a pharaoh in ancient egypt. It's a solid idea and it lends itself to some pretty great gags, but the real treat here is seeing Matsumoto's art shift from the opening -- done in classic Simpsons style -- to the actual story, where she gives the characters a much more stylized, manga-esque flair:
It's something that I've seen before, and as long as we're being completely honest with each other, I'll admit that it usually weirds me right the heck out. It's probably just a matter of being so familiar with Matt Groening's designs that seeing them any other way is a little off-putting, but every time a manga-style take on the Simpsons crops up, it always just feels weird. I think it's seeing them with actual hair that does it, which is weird when you consider that under normal circumstances, fleshy, pointy head-spikes would be downright terrifying.
Here, however, Matsumoto's work just looks great. She keeps enough of the original design that everyone's immediately recognizable, with just enough stylistic alterations to make it seem fresh and interesting, especially contrasted with the framing sequence. It looks great, and it adds a lot to the visual comedy of the story, which builds up to a pretty fantastic gag at the end.
The second story is every bit as fun: "Honey Pooch Pooch," which is essentially Gail Simone and Pia Guerra doing a riff on Best In Show, something that I am pretty intensely interested in.
It's a quick seven-pager that finds Lisa entering Santa's Little Helper into a dog show run -- crookedly, of course -- by Krusty. There are all the jokes you'd expect from seeing Springfield's pet population, but the short length of the story means that a lot of them are crammed into a pretty tight space, which, for comedy, works out pretty well. The best part, though, is Milhouse, added in as a foil for Lisa, dragging a hapless dog that is clearly not his just so he can spend some time with his crush. It's a great gag, mostly because it's never actually mentioned in the dialogue itself, its all done through the expressive art, and it's great.
Like Nuhfer and Matsumoto's, it's fun just to check out the art in this one, but for the opposite reason. Guerra, probably best known as the co-creator of Y - The Last Man, does her story in the straight up regular Simpsons style, completely on-model from start to finish. That's probably to be expected, but still, it's fun to see, even apart from this actually being a really funny story all on its own.
The last story might actually be my favorite, though: Sherri L. Smith and Kassandra Heller's "Lisa's Lending Library."
Smith's story is classic Lisa, a tale of altruism gone horribly wrong because it's being done to benefit terrible people, and Heller's art has this beautiful storybook quality that works perfectly with it. The premise is that Lisa has set up a free lending library in her front yard with books she's already read, and, naturally, the rest of the town could not be less interested in the magic of reading. This is the story that provides most of the "Treehouse of Horror" feeling with how it ends, but I love how bonkers it gets, especially with the addition of Ralph Wiggum. It's thoroughly surreal, but in a way that has a perfect payoff at the end.
It's an incredibly solid lineup for a comic, and individually, these are all stories I'd like. Getting them all together, though, is great, and it's always nice to see a comic that goes out of its way to be both kid-friendly and specifically young-girl-friendly, an audience that tends to be pretty underserved.
Plus, there are stickers.
And let's be real here: I will buy basically any comic book that includes stickers. It's just how I am.