The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid review
Come gather ‘round, friends, and I’ll tell you a tale.
A tale of a kid, and a swamp.
A kid from the swamp.
A “swamp kid,” if you will.
It’s the story of Russell Weinwright, the star of the newest release from DC Comics’ Zoom imprint. He’s a relatively normal kid, other than the fact that he was found in a swamp.
And also has a carrot finger, a bulky tree trunk mega-arm, duckweed hair, face tendrils, and “constant drippage.”
Yep, good ol’ Russell is just your average, everyday kid who is part plant and enjoys obtaining sustenance from pizza as much as he does photosynthesis.
Written and illustrated by Kirk Scroggs and lettered by Steve Wands, The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid is as weird as it is charming, with a great sense of humor and brilliant visual aesthetic.
No joke, this is one of the most visually inventive and unique books of the year. It’s made to look like it’s an actual spiral-bound notebook, complete with ruled lines, three-hole-punched margins, and “metal” spiral binding. It looks so cool and is immediately inviting, and Scroggs and letterer Steve Wands clearly had a blast working with this design. What’s truly impressive is that they completely commit throughout the entire book, at leas for the most part.
While there is an overarching plot, mainly centered around Russell’s daily life at school and his attempts to discover his true origins, the story isn’t laid out like a typical narrative. Instead, it’s told in the first-person as Russell’s journal entries. He’s a likable, engaging narrator too, and Scroggs throws in some genuinely funny bits of comedy. I love one gag where Russell is describing something that had happened at school, and then starts doodling math equations because his teacher walked by and he needed to look like he was actually paying attention. It’s not quite a “stream of conscious” approach, as there is a form and structure to even the silliest of Russell’s musings, but there’s still an air of authenticity to his voice. In the best possible way, it reads like it was written by a goofy kid.
As such, the book is never devoid of any personality, and each and every page is loaded with some genuinely engaging drawings and tons of jokes and sight gags. Scroggs’ visual style as energetic and dynamic, and you’d believe that an actual high schooler wrote and illustrated each page were you to find it laying about. There are the main illustrations to help Russell tell the story of his journal entries, along with little doodles and asides about the rest of the page. More than once I found myself cracking up at a random scene drawn in the margins, completely separate from the context of the rest of the page, or a silly doodle around the “punched holes” on the side of the page. It’s silly without ever coming across as juvenile, which is honestly kind of surprising. I mean, yeah, there are some jokes about bodily functions, but they’re few and far between. The writing is never crass, and the illustrations are clean in the purest sense.
I mean, other than the ones that are supposed to look like they’re dripping peat and moss and swamp gunk. “Clean” as in “suitable for all readers.”
My only real complaint is that the pacing is a little off in a few spots. Early on I found myself wondering why Russell (whose last name “Weinwright,” I’m ashamed to admit, took me way too long to realize is a nod to Swamp Thing’s creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson) wasn’t just a teenage Swamp Thing. It made the story feel a bit off for a bit, but you find out fairly early on why he’s a brand new character.
The final act is a tad strange too, as it reads more like a traditional comic story and not a series of journal entries. Still, it’s all great fun throughout, and never bereft of charm.
Books like this and the recent Superman of Smallville are the kinds of comics I want to see more of: entertaining yarns for reader of all ages, full of heart and humor. It goes without saying, then, that DC Zoom has another winner with The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid.