King of King Court by Travis Dandro from Drawn+Quarterly shows the complexities and struggles of the world through the eyes of a child. The story is Dandro’s own, recounting the formative years of his childhood in the events created by the people around him and adolescence as he begins to make his own decisions. The powerfully mundane is punctuated by a running theme of dreams, the dominating images of the scene, and flashbacks that give the depth of the story to the reader, far beyond what a child could know.
Dandro’s art in King of King Court is eye-catching in its exhaustiveness. Hatches fill the pages with texture, giving the space between heavy lines uniqueness to itself, as if every object is valuable, which of course it is. His self-portrait of childhood Travis is simplified with cartooniness while being packed with action, much like the style of Bill Watterson’s Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. The older characters, including Travis, have lankier designs with distinction but more subdued nature, much as we all do as we come to adulthood.
With Dandro’s fun art, King of King Court could at a glance be taken for just about any genre, which fits with the complexities of life. There are hilarious adventures, like the time young Travis went to squirt water at a classmate making fun of him for being short at the water fountain and instead hit the teacher. There are thrills, such as Travis’s first time driving a car in his parent’s lap, leading to a police officer to pull them over. There are even the beginnings of the inspirational tale of Dandro following his dreams of cartooning, working hard at jobs to put himself through school. The most impactful genre is drama, through which Dandro tells his story of struggling with an abusive birth-then-step-father.
The story is dramatic within itself, but King of King Court gives a fresh perspective by sticking so closely to the point of view appropriate to Travis’s age. When he is very young, things are wild adventures, seemingly jumping from one point to the next in the muddled times of childhood. Rather than exploring the necessities of family income, Travis is simply told and accepts that they are going to move in with Grandma or an uncle. Travis’s fear of his father bursts from the page in illustrated terrors we make up for ourselves about kidnapping and murder, fueled by media and sometimes hauntingly real.
King of King Court is a great example of the literature that graphic novels can be, ranking easily with such memoirs as Blankets and Contract with God. It shows the whimsy of childhood through dreams akin to Little Nemo, the struggles of growing up under such a chaotic and trying life, and the aspects of growing up: overcoming the bad and remembering the good since we are all of us human.