Da’n’Dill were endemic to Australia’s mid-90s landscape. They appeared in kids’ magazines such as K-Zone, in amusement park showbags, and were syndicated in newspapers. The comic was a disease, infesting every blank piece of paper you could name. Every kid I knew seemed to read them.
The concept was a riff on Mork and Mindy‘s “aliens in suburbia”, but Naylor correctly understood that humor doesn’t come from silliness, it comes from conflict, and he changed the Mindy character into a thin-skinned, teeth-grinding nerd who was constantly having his plans ruined by the dumb, well-meaning aliens.
Naylor’s comics were funny, and seemed even funnier when you were riding a sugar high on the train home from Luna Park. There are legends about casinos that hyper-oxygenate the air to induce euphoria (and compulsive gambling) in their patrons. Naylor had a similar racket going with the under-twelve set.
Penni in Vegetaria is another of Naylor’s works. The setup is as relatable as you can get: it’s dinner time, and Penni doesn’t want to eat her greens. She hides from her parents in a pile of leaves, discovers a spaceship, presses buttons, gets whisked away to a distant planet inhabited by sentient plants, and is soon caught up in a war between rival kingdoms of fruit and vegetables. I hate it when that happens.
The story is kid-friendly, and layered with moralistic overtones. It’s never in doubt that Penny will resolve the war, and will both learn and share some lessons along the way.
But there’s also that typical Naylor subversiveness: such as a visual gag involving a WWII-style internment camp (the detainees are tomatoes, because nobody’s sure what side they’re on!)
Naylor’s art is wonderfully grotesque and expressive. Australian writers (Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman, and Andy Griffiths) have always excelled at making twisted and disturbing nightmare fuel that technically isn’t objectionable at all, and Penni in Vegetaria is no exception. Naylor’s specialty? Teeth. They’re huge and scary and jut out like tombstones in nearly every panel. It’s actually pretty frightening. I’ve never worried about being bitten by a comic before.
Penni in Vegetaria is printed on incredibly thin A4 pulp, which might be a result of pro-plant lobbying. It’s rather short and Naylor might have taken the concept further, if he’d had more pages (it’s a disappointment to see the fruit and vegetables fight each other with human weapons, rather than in some funny plant-based way. And I just know that Queen Broccoli was busy planning the Final Solution to the Tomato Problem.)
I’m not sure if there were more Tales from the Ovoid, or whether there’s any connection to the Da’n’Dill universe. Memory tells me that Penni is the sister of the aforementioned nerd, but a re-read revealed that this isn’t true. I also learned that only Da is an alien, whereas Dill is only a mutated parrot. It’s important to know these things.
Although it’s not quite “cult classic” status yet, Penni in Vegetaria is a neat comic, and well worth tracking down. Luna Park closed in the middle of the 90s, but then came back. Naylor’s work is overdue for a similar renaissance.