There can be few experiences in comics quite as delightfully, deliciously and dizzyingly bizarre as a Donya Todd offering. From her self-published The Burger Boys to Death & the Girls from Blank Slate Books through to her kick-ass all-women anthology Bimba, Todd has been a regular fixture here at Broken Frontier over the years.
Buttertubs is her first book to be published by Avery Hill Publishing, the respected British outfit to have picked up work by so many other top names from the UK small press scene in recent years including the likes of Simon Moreton, Rachael Smith and Gareth Brookes. It’s an excellent fit for a smaller publisher whose growing back catalogue is refreshingly eclectic in terms of style, approach and subject matter and yet tied together by a common bond of excellence in practice.
In this latest foray into the fertile phantasmagoria that is the imagination of Donya Todd we are introduced to the would-be heroic canine Buttertubs, a dairy product-perspiring creature whose buttery sweat ensures that his valiant feats are prone to disastrous consequences. Derring-do and courageous acts are hampered by his slippery secretions and their flammable qualities but, in that long tradition of good-natured but largely incompetent protagonists, the instantly endearing Buttertubs won’t let a little thing like being a walking (sliding?) disaster area stop him attempting to save the day.
When Buttertubs and his friend Hester are invited to Princess Puppy’s birthday party they have to negotiate the dangerous terrain of their world before they can join in the celebrations. Along the way they must also find a suitable anniversary gift, “rescue” the odd damsel-in-distress and deal with the evil machinations of their malevolent nemesis the Hotdog Queen and her lackey Booboo…
Buttertubs is relatively unsophisticated in terms of narrative but, as we have come to expect from Todd now, it’s almost impossible not to be instantly swept along in her raucously captivating tales. Often less of a structured story and more one long freeform association of ideas, a Donya Todd comic usually has a sweary, rhythmic beat to it that reflects her idiosyncratic approach to the page. Buttertubs himself is obviously the titular lead of the comic but in a way he is something of an anti-protagonist. Events frequently seem to happen around him – sometimes even in spite of him – as he bumbles through the story.
From the outset, the gastronomically-themed world Todd creates in Buttertubs feels fully-formed in its own magnificently way-out splendour. This is an environment of anthropomorphic animals with a culinary twist. A landscape where the rain is mustard, where Ketchup Fly Traps grow, and where the Hotdog Queen can whip up a handy sausage storm when it suits her. Enchantingly child-like in one respect but bawdily irreverent in another, underlining that odd juxtaposition of the naive and the naughty that is such an integral part of her books.
Todd imbues her pages with a sense of panel to panel motion that is so fluid that the reader finds themselves intermittently having to take a step back and re-read at a more leisurely pace to appreciate the level of craft that has gone into the pacing of so many of the slapstick sequences in the book. Describing this as animation on the comics page is not too far off the mark.
The cast of Buttertubs are simple in visual realisation – with a hint of the early days of Hollywood cartoon shorts to them – but wonderfully expressive in their interactions with each other and, by extension, the audience. Given that essentially they exist only to propel the gags along – and that deep insights into motivation are unlikely to be a major factor in a comic about a hound that oozes churned milk – strong visual characterisation is vital in ensuring reader empathy with the main characters. Todd never disappoints on this front and, indeed, there’s a rather touching sequence towards the end of the book that underlines just how quickly invested we have become in characters about whom we know essentially nothing.
Buttertubs is nonsense literature for the comics page given glorious, trippy life by this true original in UK comics. Donya Todd proves once again that if you’re looking for fantasy with attitude and a defiantly underground vibe then her work should be your absolute first port of call.
For more on Donya Todd check out her site here and her online store here. You can also follow her on Twitter here. Buttertubs is published by Avery Hill Publishing priced £7.00 and available on their online store here.
Donya Todd is a contributor to the Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook available for pre-order here priced £6.00 plus postage. The Yearbook launches at London’s Gosh! Comics on April 29th. Full details here.
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.