Return of King Doug

Written by Greg Erb and Jason Oremland
Art by Wook-Jin Clark
184 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

When I heard about the basic premise of The Return of King Doug, I had to laugh. As far as concepts go, it’s a good one: young boy discovers a magic kingdom, is told he’s the king and savior, and responds by running screaming in the opposite direction. It’s a knowing nod towards series like The Chronicles of Narnia where instead of jumping full hog into the story as dictated to the child, we instead get a realistic, honest reaction. The only thing hovering in the back of my head as I heard about this, though, was that everyone would surely see exactly how the end of this story would play out. Fortunately, I think it’s also clear that writers Greg Erb and Jason Oremland understood that potential pitfall, too.

What we end up with is a joking, tongue-in-cheek series of gags, one-liners, and pratfalls as the adult Doug and his son Oscar enter Valdonia and are yanked back into the unfinished epic that Doug had abandoned. This is a comedy, through-and-through, not an epic adventure. It’s a decision that both does and doesn’t work for the book, depending in which spot of the book you’ve arrived at. When The Return of King Doug works, it’s worth quite a few snickers. The elf village deciding to eat the returning Doug, setting the dogs on the Doug after he flees, and then realizing that they should just eat the dogs instead made me chuckle because of how Erb and Oremland play the scene out. It’s got a good sense of comic timing and pacing, with each line building towards the next until you hit the final punch line. That’s where I think Erb and Oremland work best, creating longer jokes that gather steam over the course of panels or pages.

What I wasn’t as crazy about were the swift one-liners that pepper the book, going for the instant joke and then moving onwards. Some of them just don’t work that well—actually proving to be a little distracting rather than funny—and there’s a strange sort of desperation with the less-funny jokes. It’s like someone frantically trying to tell joke after joke just to see which one will finally generate a laugh, throwing everything out there possible. When Erb and Oremland pull out a particularly unfunny poop joke towards the end of the book, I actually found myself shaking my head a bit.

I also found myself slightly unconvinced about the progression of Doug’s character as the book unfolds. There’s a little too much flip-flopping of Doug starting to man up to his promises and responsibilities; every time it looks like he’s starting to understand what he did wrong and that he needs to help fix it, the next section of the book seems to have Doug reverting to his old ways. I know that The Return of King Doug isn’t supposed to be the deepest of books, but it felt like Erb and Oremland were trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Wook-Jin Clark’s art in The Return of King Doug is at its best when showing off reactions to the events unfolding. Surprise, fear, amusement, these are all things that Clark easily hits with a loose, young looking art style. It’s a take that works well for the joke-filled script and I can see why Clark teamed up with Erb and Oremland for the book. I’m not as crazy at how Clark draws the fantastic; save for a large monstrous report card just about all of the larger than life creatures and moments come off more like blobby people. There’s a strange sort of sameness to a lot of the art here, and I wish that Clark had stretched himself a little more in making the world of The Return of King Doug looking a little more fantastical. The fantasy element might not be the main thrust of the book, but for those who did enter the book looking for it, a stronger take on those ideas might be better at keeping them amused too.

The Return of King Doug is a solid first effort, and it’s the kind of story that you can see a company like DreamWorks jumping all over to turn into an animated film. While the humor didn’t always work for me, there were more than enough moments that I did laugh that I do consider the book a success. It’s fluffy and light-hearted, but it’s fun and at the end of the day, that feels like a win. I’m also happy with the production values on the book; Oni’s slick, inexpensive hardcovers look fantastic and this one is no exception. If I was a teenager, I suspect I’d have already read The Return of King Doug several dozen times by now. Definitely worth a look.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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