Ok, so the original Napoleon Dynamite movie came out in 2004…yes, fifteen years ago (feel old yet?)! It featured an awkward, socially maladjusted teenager and his awkward, socially maladjusted friends and was very very popular. A bajillion products and tie-ins and parodies were spawned from the instant sleeper classic…and then it went away.
Flash forward to 2012, when an animated series based on the cult film aired on Fox, pretty much featuring the entire frickin original movie cast…it lasted only six episodes.
And now in 2019 we have the Napoleon Dynamite 4-issue comic book miniseries from IDW, pretty much picking up from where the original movie left off.
And so I’ll cut to the chase here and say that if you enjoyed the original film, you’ll probably like the comic. The writing by Carlos Guzman-Verdugo and Alejandro Verdugo faithfully replicate the deadpan tone of the movie. They revisit all the key NP tropes (Tina fat lard, shredded cheese, Rex Kwon Do, Uncle Rico’s nads-smashing time machine, etc.) while at the same time building a couple of new storylines (a vote recount may lead to President Pedro’s impeachment, and Rico is suspected of a murder).
The art by Jorge Monlongo is done in a hip indie style that conpliments the source material really well. As IDW did earlier this year with Clue: Candlestick and Dash Shaw, generic “licensed comic book adaptation” art is eschewed for a much more visually interesting style. (I’m thinking now of all those bland movie/toy comic tie-ins from the 1980s like Police Academy.)
The NP characters tend to be a little bit grotesque…and an artist that didn’t really understand that quirky humor would tend to draw them flat-out ugly. But Monlongo’s art totally “gets” it…both the designs and the action (or: inaction) perfectly nail the movie’s somewhat alienated vibe.
I suppose the big elephant (or liger) in the room with this comic is the following: does the character of Napoleon Dynamite really “translate” to a post-Incel world?
That’s right…I said it.
You can see the writers tackled just this very topic in the opening scene of the comic, where Napoleon is having a conference with the school guidance counselor. Interestingly, our protagonist is styled here a bit more of an outright conspiracy theorist, talking about Area 51, hacking, and cryptozoology. When he tells the counselor that he was thinking of joining the FBI after graduating, the skeptical older man suggests maybe he can do so “as an example.”
Basically…Napoleon has been “profiled” as the exact demographic law enforcement might want to study to prevent future domestic terrorism: an awkward young white guy into conspiracy theories.
So can this character ever really be received the same in the current sociological environment? Is what might be considered merely cringe behavior on Napoleon’s part in 2004 seem almost threatening now?
Having rewatched the movie a couple of months ago, I’ve pinpointed what seems to be Napoleon’s saving grace both then and now. The original Napoleon Dynamite was about an extremely white-bread Middle-American family whose life opens up through the relationships they have outside of that bubble. Napoleon meets Pedro, who is Mexican, and suddenly he has a friend to interact with and care about…and his older brother Kip meets an African-American woman online, falls in love, and finally moves out of the house. Even Grandma hangs out with young thrill-seekers probably a third of her age.
Along the same lines, Napoleon’s friendship with the similarly-awkward Deb is something that transforms his life for the better. It may seem on the surface like he’s the same sorta strange dude at the end of the film…but actually, he has changed and grown a lot. That’s the whole point of the movie. It’s about somewhat sheltered individuals who take a chance to expand their point of view and move past their comfort zones…actions that actually benefit their lives.
And so…perhaps this franchise is worth another look!