Though the title and the deceptively simple character drawings suggest a kids’ comic, rarely are graphic novels aimed at adults as sweetly affecting as this.
Chunky Rice is a very cute turtle. Dandel, his girlfriend, is an equally adorable mouse deer (as identified by the book, though she appears more rodent-sized than cervine). Chunky must explore the world by water, for that is his nature. As he says, “My home is on my back.” Dandel must remain on land, for that is her nature. Before his bittersweet but inevitable departure, the two construct an entire world of sand castles, and he proceeds to tell her a bedtime story, the tale of the doomed lovers of Greek mythology, Orpheus and Eurydice (or, as rendered by graphic-artist Thompson, “Or-fee-us” and “Yourid-uhsee”). It’s unclear whether what follows the bedtime story is dream or reality, but Chunky seems to emulate the example of another mythological hero, Odysseus, as he makes his way to what looks to be an ocean-bound tugboat with a grizzled, mercenary captain. Chunky has brought all his prized possessions, including his collection of Motown records, but the country-and-western–loving captain tells him he must travel light for a life on the sea. His shipmates include female Siamese twins, whose different sizes and sleeping patterns complicate their attachment. As Chunky sails the ocean and Dandel drops love letters into bottles carried by the waves, not much happens to propel the narrative. Yet the artistic range displayed within the black-and-white drawings, as Thompson evokes the turbulence and majesty of the sea, shows a more sophisticated command of technique than he employs with his characters (who are almost Peanuts-like). Originally published in 1999, this reprint represents the debut of another promising artist within the Pantheon stable.
For characters who must pursue their own destinies, love is as boundless as the sea.