The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26:
Creators (Yeah, we’re just going to list everybody): Ryan North, Madeline McGrane, Iris Holden, Erica Henderson, Chip Zdarsky, Travis Lanham, Tom Fowler, Rico Renzi, Travis Lanham, Carla Speed McNeil, Michael Cho, Rahzzah, Anders Nielsen, Soren Iverson, Jim Davis (yes, that Jim Davis), Emily Horne, Joey Comeau.
Some of you out there just have no love lost for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. That’s understandable if you specifically restrict yourself to superhero books, and “house” style books at that. For decades, Marvel and DC have mostly functioned under specific notions of straightforward comic art. That’s not to say that nobody experiments at the big two (Todd McFarlane’s tenure on Spider-Man and Jim Lee’s X-Men were both dramatic leaps ahead for superhero art), but outside of someone like Bill Sienkiewicz or the occasional James Kochalka guest stint in a Hulk backup, superhero stuff is pretty straightforward and standardized.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, then, can be a pretty jarring book to the casual superhero reader. I’ll admit myself that I’m not its biggest fan, because it operates in an over-hyperbolized style that I’m not used to. There’s nothing wrong with that. My daughter loves Doreen’s adventures, and I happily buy it for her every month. This book is a hit with the kids, as it should be.
Ryan North’s title has hit its groove with a straightforward pattern of a four-issue arc followed by a one-issue wacky issue. The title’s current run has, thus far, seen a “choose your own adventure” issue (North did something similar on Adventure Time), an issue that jumped around Doreen’s life in five-year increments, and now issue #26: an artist jam modeled on an underground “zine” publication. Modern readers may be unfamiliar with these oddball underground publications which, in the past, were limited run magazines printed by somebody with sufficient access to a xerox machine. They were weird, subversive, and their own unique subculture that contributed to comics in a way that superheroes sure didn’t.
Squirrel Girl #26 posits that a local library was burned down, and that Doreen herself has gotten her friends to produce a bunch of underground indie comics which have been collected into a single issue to be sold as a fundraising effort. The joke is that you, the reader, are holding an actual artifact from the Marvel Universe actually produced by Howard the Duck, Loki, Kraven, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and even Galactus. Try not to think too hard about it: the “real copy of a fictional item” is a gag that’s been used in Lord of the Rings, The Multiversity, and elsewhere. It’s fun.
The reality is that this comic is drawn by a plethora of comic creators, many of whom simply don’t draw Marvel Comics with obvious exceptions like North himself and veterans like Erica Henderson and Chip Zdarsky. But North has somehow managed to rope in a bunch of creators we may never again see on a Marvel title purely because they’re not part of the company’s conventional style. Needless to say, the results are delightful, and this is the kind of trick that’s gorgeous when it’s pulled off. So we end up with Carla Speed McNeil (you did read our interview with her, right?) engaging in artistic trickery with a spiraling Loki comic that requires you to read it forward and back to get the whole joke; Anders Nielsen putting Wolverine through an existential crisis with a Sentinel; or Tom (Rick & Morty) Fowler having the villain Brain Drain offer us a lesson on the meaning of happiness; or the digital artist Razzah giving us some “real” photographs from Peter Parker which are incorporated into the story.
Oh, and then there’s the whole part where the actual Jim Davis draws a series of Galactus strips in the style of Garfield. That, alone is worth the price of admission.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is, admittedly, a very weird comic. And that is as it should be, because it really allows the book to break conventions even more than usual and expose readers to the fun and variety of comic art.
Rating: Five Zines Out of Five