Andi Watson has a particular knack for capturing daily routines. In his graphic novel Breakfast After Noon, he explored the minutiae of two lovers who each find themselves unemployed shortly before their wedding. Within its pages, domestic comedy went arm-in-arm with more primal concerns and the eternal struggle of following one’s passion versus earning a living. Those concerns recur in his latest project, an all-ages-friendly graphic novel that’s a sort of workplace romance with an emphasis on culinary delight. The fact that the workplace is the subterranean castle of the lord of the underworld, or that the inamorato is a vampire whose fangs have been worn down by a fondness for sugar, is secondary.
That lover would be Count Spatula, who arrives early in the story to run the kitchen in a palace populated by a royal family and all sorts of supernatural retainers. It’s there that Princess Decomposia attends to the affairs of state, while her father remains in bed, complaining of phantom ailments, reading wellness magazines and making unreasonable demands on the kitchen staff. Spatula’s arrival and creative approach are a hit with the diplomatic delegations that Decomposia entertains, but her father proves more stubborn, both in his taste for food and his insistence that Spatula’s interest in Decomposia is more sinister than apparent.
With a star-crossed romance, a disapproving parent and a calvacade of bizarre creatures, Watson’s graphic novel is a supernaturally-charged take on an ages-old story. It’s a simple tale, but enjoyable, and Watson’s humor here addresses readers of different ages. There’s slapstick, to be sure, but Spatula’s culinary prowess, and the story’s digs at at a certain strain of obsessive foodie, seem more pointed (no pun intended) for an older demographic.
Much of the fun in this book comes from the small details. Watson’s fondness for odd character design pays off in supporting characters like Skulker — an armless creature with a giant eye for a head — and a winged skull responsible for deliveries, who outputs receipts through its mouth. And a tuxedo-clad werewolf is a study in incongruous elements, up to (and including) the dapper mustache found at the end of his snout. For a book with a simple, cartoonish style, Watson doesn’t neglect body language: Princess Decomposia’s occasionally-harried posture coveys a lot about her shifting moods from panel to panel, and her reaction to the aforementioned werewolf devouring a plate of raw meat hits the right balance of disgust and mortification.
Watson employs a loose style here, with a neatly-organized grid of panels. The looseness of the art can sometimes lend a rough feeling to the storytelling, but more often than not, that approach lends it a fluidity that helps move the story along. A decaying zombie can be portrayed as comic rather than horrific; the bat wings in Decomposia’s hair can perk up to indicate enthusiasm. Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula is a brisk, enjoyable read, whether you’re seeking broad comedy or an adept level of character detail layered into a larger, captivating narrative.