Dave Kellett is a guy that lends himself to musical analogies. For example, given that his strip Sheldon is about a boy genius/software billionaire, there are Bill Gates jokes. Every Bill Gates joke in the known universe has been done approximately 2.54 separate times in User Friendly. This might lead one to suspect that Sheldon and UF are similar, and they are in the same way that Protection by Ben Folds is similar to Joe Jackson’s entire early-’80s catalog: same tempo, same chord structure, but somehow, Ben doesn’t suck. In a format (4-panel newspaper-style strip) with a setup (boy billionaire, eccentric grandfather, evil waterfowl) and a medium (syndicated strip forced to be family friendly) that fairly screams with opportunities to suck, Kellett does the exact opposite. You can observe this opposite-of-suck first hand in the first Sheldon collection, Pure Ducky Goodness.
That being said, there are two disclaimers that will have to be kept in mind for the rest of this review. Firstly, since Kellett has a (web-only) deal with United Features Syndicate, the public archives are restricted to the last 30 days and protected by ferocious attack lawyers. Thus, the links that would ordinarily be used in this review to illustrate particular points are not to be found. Perversely, this may work in Kellett’s favor, as you’ll have to buy the book to figure out what I’m talking about when I say that the first strip on page 22 has a great sense of pacing.
Secondly, you need to know that Dave Kellett is seriously in love with me. Alas, his love is cheaply obtained … he knows what I’m talking about. To Dave’s lovely wife Gloria, I’m sorry you have to find out this way, truly I am. With that unpleasantness out of the way, onwards to the review.
It’s obvious from the content of PDG that Kellett has been cartooning his whole life; he likely fell asleep in his tender years with especially good Bloom County strips playing across his eyelids as he drifted off. Remember that one where Opus wound up in a college Republican protest against affirmative action and the students started freaking out on stale beer? Cue the big frat guy with the bucket on his head to start hopping around the background as he shouted I’M A FROG!! Those little Breathedian bits of background absurdity that don’t really have anything to do with the story or the gag, they just set the scene? They’re all over the place in Kellett’s work. Let us count the ways:
- Utterly random pop-culture gag from The Last Of The Mohicans? Check. (page 36)
- Vulcans with jazz hands and Klingons with sparkly codpieces? Check. (page 40)
- Recollection of how every kid has a private hiearchy of quality with respect to Halloween candy? Check. (page 44, despite a rather rude attitude towards SweeTARTS; geez, it’s not like they’re Necco wafers)
- Total appreciation for the cruelty of children and waterfowl? Check. (page 49)
- Ability to channel Calvinball? Check. (page 71)
- Dangerously deranged grandparent instead of the treacly version normally found on the comics page? Check. (page 102)
- Monkey on his back in the form of the food of the gods, Thin Mints? Check. (page 131)
Of interest is the fact that pretty much none of this requires a slavish adherence to the premise of the strip; it’s all just funny whether Sheldon has his billions or not. Add it all together, and you’ve got some seriously good stuff. And don’t take his ability to mock nerdery at face value … he may act all cool around the chicks, but those Klingon warship interiors (page 69) look pretty authentic. So go grab a copy of Pure Ducky Goodness, and if you run into Alyson Hannigan (of course I’m mentioning her again, and I will continue to do so until the inevitable restraining order), be sure to kneel in thanks to Dave Kellett.