Earthworm Jim vol. 1 GN: Launch the Cow! – Doug TenNapel

3 out of 5

This is why most of us are here, right? Earthworm Jim for Sega Genesis was a massively formative part of my childhood, encouraging not only what would become a preference for gaming – quirky platformers – but also my sense of humor and drawing sensibilities, which found like-minded chuckles in EWJ’s randomness and appreciation for the elasticity and colorfulness of its world. At first I followed this muse through the video game part, via programmer David Perry, but later I would learn to identify the larger source of the influences to Jim creator Doug TenNapel. I’d add to my appreciation for Doug where I could (e.g. The Neverhood), but it wasn’t until young adulthood when more money and the internet made tracking down other projects and his then-burgeoning line of Scholastic titles a possibility. In my collection, Doug has managed to be one of the survivors of the art vs. artist conundrum, as his personal points of view are not desirable to me, and these views have become more and more apparent with the growth of social media, but excepting a general “I believe in god” vein that runs through his books – and, admittedly, the very rare poor choice of terminology here and there – without having read more about TenNapel outside of his creations, I wouldn’t have necessarily mapped those beliefs to the dude making this stuff. That is: the separation of art and artist is easier here, for me, and I do believe that the overall good in his works – which encourage creativity, and individuality, and uphold a generally positive morality – outweigh the denial of support of such a creator, although it will continue to be (by choice) a debate with each subsequent book he releases.

This is related to the review in the sense that this all started with Earthworm Jim, and its now maybe 25 years after the fact, with at least a decade of those tempered by what I’m mentioning above, and I’m still buying Doug’s stuff, and still excited by what he’s working on, and still in awe of the exuberance and inventiveness of what he does… and so it was hard not to get hyped up about a full-on Doug-ed version of the character that kicked off this push-and-pull appreciation. There’s a volume 2 of EWJ that just Kickstarted, and I’m there.

Does Launch the Cow! fulfill whatever expectations I could’ve had? Mm… from both a TenNapel perspective and a Jim perspective… kinda.

The main thing standing in the way of this book flowing in the way TenNapel’s projects usually do is that it partially reads like fanservice. And you could say it is: it’s fanservice two decades in the making. But narratively, this makes the “introduction” – as this is a new telling of Jim’s origin – of Queen-Slug-For-A-Butt, Princess-What’s-Her-Name, Psycrow, Peter Puppy, Snot, Evil the Cat, Professor-Monkey-for-a-Head, and Jim – read like a checklist; Doug’s works are honestly a tad clunky, as he prioritizes fluidity over excessive plotting depth, but that normally works: you just get sucked up into it, ushered along on the series of silly jokes and endlessly kooky ideas and energetic artwork, and then in the midst of the fairly simple characterizations (good people; bad people) there will be sudden splashes of things that cast potential depth thereupon… Launch the Cow!, though, just doesn’t have room for that. It’s too busy tossing this new Characters You Recognize into the mix; by the time the pieces are in place and the story feels like it can move forward in more organic ways, we’re 2/3rds of the way through – though that last 1/3rd does come very satisfyingly as a result.

The other hallmarks are here – butt jokes, poop jokes, dumb puns, a prayer to god – and on a second readthrough, when I knew what to expect, the opening sections are a bit smoother, but there’s still a marked difference between when the book is full-on nostalgia versus when it feels fresh and new.

Doug’s art is as astounding as ever, and the presentation of this thing – it’s oversized hardcover, the full-bleed end pages, gold-embossed edges – is an amazing shelf addition. Katherine Garner’s water-colored colors (with flatting by Radka Kavalcova) are generally impressive, but she’s dealt a tough hand with a story that takes place very much at night on a slimly-populated farm, meaning black, empty backgrounds. This causes some compromises in coloring black-on-black things, and the blue spotlights or white outlinings used in those moments are a bit weird.

But overall, while this doesn’t necessarily stack up against some of my favorite Doug projects, it does kinda meet my expectations in that this was a long-standing ghost that needed to be exorcised, creatively. It’s great to see Jim brought into modern TenNapel-ness, and I’m there for EWJ2 because of how well the book picks up once Doug has dashed off most of the setup.