Bob’s Burgers Graphic Novel ReviewApril 15, 2015
Bob’s Burgers is one of the most under-appreciated shows on television. It’s hilarious and features an amazing cast of voice actors (including Kristen Schaal and the man/myth/legend himself, H. Jon Benjamin), but the show suffers by being sandwiched between animation giants The Simpsons and Family Guy. It seems that once again Fox is taking a great show and setting it up for failure despite its massive potential.
What does this have to do with the graphic novel, you ask? Well, nothing really, but it’s a shame that Bob’s Burgers doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Maybe that’s why I jumped at the opportunity to review the graphic novel based on the show, because I fear the show isn’t long for this world.
As a fan of the show, I was excited to see how the world of Bob’s Burgers translated into comic form. The graphic novel itself is a compilation of 5 separate issues, and each issue contains a recurring set of in-canon stories from the Bob’s Burgers universe. There is no real continuity between these stories, nor any common thread or plot. Instead, fans are treated to a mix of tales centered on each of the five main characters.
One doesn’t need to have watched any episodes of the television series to read the comics. However, there are plenty of references to older episodes, and an understanding of the characters’ personalities is helpful (especially for reading along in your head with their voices), so I would recommend watching some episodes of Bob’s Burgers first to get the most out of your experience.
Before I get into my impressions, I’ll outline how each issue is arranged. As I stated earlier, there are five issues, each with five stories focused on one of the main characters. Each of the kids gets their own short story (Gene – a musical, Louise – a mystery, Tina – erotic friend fiction), and the parents get one pagers (Bob – burger name ideas, Linda – letters from Linda).
As a fan of the show, I can see why each character got the theme they received (except maybe Louise…that one is odd), and in theory they would work great given each of their personalities. However, as I read through each issue, it became quite clear that 5-6 page stories and one-pagers were not enough to express what makes the show (and these characters) amazing.
For starters, the one-pagers for Linda and Bob were interesting at first, but by the 3rd or 4th time reading them they became dry and predictable, but without any familiarity. I could see that the writers were trying to convey Bob’s personality onto a faux notebook page spotted with grease where he brainstorms names for his burgers, but it only inspired a few chuckles along the way. I didn’t think it was fair to try and stuff great characters like Bob and Linda into a single page of a comic, and expecting readers to be okay with a few glances at Bob’s lame dad humor or Linda’s histrionics.
What Bob’s Burgers truly deserves in a comic adaptation is a full story where readers can get a feel for each character and see them come alive as they do on television. The closest semblance of this came in the form of the kids’ short stories. Fans of the show will be familiar with Gene’s love of music (and farts), and Tina’s odd “Erotic Friend Fiction”, so their story themes should come as no surprise. Why Louise was given the theme of “Unsolved Mysteries and Curious Curiosities” is unknown as I cannot recall many instances when Louise went into Hardy Boys Mode to solve a mystery with her siblings.
Regardless of the reasons, these stories were a chance for the writers to showcase what makes these characters so likable in the show, but overall it just didn’t come together that way. Each one fell victim to the same misfortune as Bob and Linda’s recurring themes. There just didn’t seem to be enough space to properly represent these characters as needed to give readers the feel of what makes the show great. I understand that without voice acting, translating an animated show to print is difficult, but after reading the Bob’s Burgers graphic novel, I doubt that the writers even tried. Instead, it seems they believed that fans would carry the burden of filling in the gaps with their own imagined laugh track, and that memories of the show would be enough to make up for poor story development.
As a fan, I found it a bit insulting that each character was only given a short story (or less) to work with in each comic. If this graphic novel truly wanted to find a humorous voice that mimicked the hilarity of the television series, each issue should’ve contained a single story within its pages. The characters alone are not what makes Bob’s Burgers great, but rather the ensemble working together.
By separating them into their own worlds where the rest of the cast are bit players takes away from the whole, which is by far greater than the sum of its parts. Creating a solid story that spanned 20+ pages of a single issue like an episode of the show would’ve been a wiser way to go in my opinion. It would’ve allowed the characters to do what they do best and complement one another, just like most families do, real or imagined.
Lost in the poor use of the cast and in-canon story themes is some great artwork. Almost all the art followed the show closely in style and color, but my favorite came from artist Kat Kosmala. She did amazing work to not only explore the panels’ space in creative ways, but also allow the characters to jump off the page and show themselves to the reader as they are in the show. She truly knew how to properly bring Bob’s Burgers to life in comic form, and it’s a shame that it was lost in a sea of mediocrity.
All of this was a major letdown for me, because as a fan of Bob’s Burgers, I truly wanted to enjoy reading this graphic novel. Perhaps as a fan I’m also more critical of the series, but I truly believe that the graphic novel could’ve offered readers so much more. I wish I could recommend it to people to read; however, if you’re not a fan of the show you’ll likely miss too many references to make the experience worthwhile, and if you’re a fan like me, you’ll be disappointed in how the greatness of the television series doesn’t ever show up. The five issues comprising the graphic novel would’ve been better ditching the short story format and focusing on a single story throughout, but unfortunately we’re treated to a less than average shell of lost potential. I still highly recommend the show, though… please watch so it’s not canceled.