This is an odd review to write, because although I stand second to no man as a fan of Christopher Baldwin’s Little Dee, this book isn’t really meant for me. That’s because Little Dee And The Penguin has to serve a completely different purpose for a completely different reader, and that reader and I are going to have fundamentally different experiences.
It’s meant to be read without prior knowledge of Dee and her cohorts (indeed, it starts with three separate introductions), it’s meant to tell a single story (the strip was given over to story arcs of a week or two or three, occasionally revisited over the five years it ran) with a beginning, middle, and end (although the strip had an overall direction and distinct endpoints for each of the characters, it had the ability to meander to get there). Everything that makes LDATP a success for that new reader is very possibly going to strike the longtime fan as somewhat unfamiliar.
For example, despite having second billing in the title, the desire of Paisley the Penguin to get back home¹ (and away from those that want to eat her², via a long arduous route with the occasional expat³ along the way) is really the main driving force of the narrative. Dee comes second (her arrival with the animals is a good deal more disturbing than in the strip, and as a result the overall arc from the strip of getting her back home is compressed and emphasized to where it becomes a parallel goal), and the trio of Ted (a bear), Blake (a dog), and Vachel (a vulture) fill in the background.
While Ted is still the original Ted (with the exception of really wanting to get Dee back to the human world; this sotry takes place in the immediate aftermath of meeting her), Blake and Vachel have less time to establish their two primary motivations (Blake: being a free dog and distrustful of humans; Vachel: being a jerk, but eventually a lovable one) and each is rougher-edged as a result.
Functionally, it’s a reboot, but I realize that word has specific connotations that I don’t want to imply. It’s not a case of a cheesy original becoming darker and grittier (cf: Battlestar Galactica), something cheesy becoming more radical and over the top (cf: Charlie’s Angels), or something well-loved but dated (and yeah, a little cheesy) becoming shinier and more lens flare-y (cf: Star Trek). It’s not just the same names with the serial numbers clumsily filed off; it’s a different set of character motivations and a different plot emphasis to tell a different story in a different medium. If you’re looking for an analogue, look to Snoopy Come Home.
If you haven’t seen the movie, it centers around Snoopy getting a letter from his first owner begging him to come visit her in the hospital. Although previously scarcely-mentioned, she drives the plot while the established cast is secondary and reactive to the sudden change in the status quo. The movie essentially becomes a road trip to a goal that’s not really satisfying to anybody and gets walked back to return to how things should be.
Likewise, the theme of Dee has to go back to the humans, just as soon as we lose the polar bears trying to eat Paisley and possibly the rest of us becomes a parallel quest to returning Paisley to Antarctica. Like Snoopy at Lila’s apartment, Dee’s return to the humans won’t stick and it’s only at the very end that Ted, Blake, and Vachel come around to looking at Dee the way they did in the strip (unalloyed love, affection, and whiningly begrudged tolerance, respectively). Little Dee And The Penguin is a different beast than Little Dee, but they both have the same heart, the same emphasis on family (especially one you make yourself), and the same gorgeous work from Baldwin.
But beneath it all, there’s one inescapable truth: even a diehard original-recipe purist like me is going to find LDATP charming and adorable. That younger reader that’s never met Dee and the others? She’s going to wonder why the webcomic is so slow-paced and meandering, but will revel in all the hijinks. And you know what? Little Dee and her friends have enough depth that we can both be right and love them for different reasons; after all, Dee and her friends won’t mind sharing us.
Except Vachel. That dude never shares.
An advanced review copy of Little Dee And The Penguin was provided by creator Christopher Baldwin and publisher Dial Books. The book is available for pre-order now, and will release on 5 April 2016.
Spam of the day:
This amazing water filter removes 99.9% of impurities including flouride
Let me stop you right there. In this household, we believe in the prevention of oral caries, mister!
¹ All togther now: Oooo I’m, dyin’!
² And again: Pen-go-wins is practically chickens.
³ And one mo’ ‘gain: Say pardon me, but can you help a fellow American who’s down on his luck?