Leo Baxendale (art/lineart/lettering)
Treasury of British Comics/Rebellion
Sweeny Toddler is a wonderfully ridiculous little comic strip. Beloved by Brits, who first saw him in the pages of Shiver ‘N’ Shake Magazine, the semi-vicious toddler and his exasperated parents eventually moved to Whoopee! Magazine, then survived mergers with Whizzer and Chips and Buster magazines. Between the two outposts, the strip lasted for over two decades of generally innocent, sometimes gross, occasionally violent but always wild antics under the Fleetway banner. Think of him as Dennis the Menace meets the Katzenjammer Kids, filtered through the lens of Don Martin with a skosh of Heathcliff.
The general premise of the strips are simple: two-year-old Sweeny—sometimes accompanied by his dog Henry, and usually in the presence of his mother, father, or a babysitter figure—craves adventure and will do anything to get it. From riding an adult like a jockey and steering him through a store he’s been barred from by the ears, to disturbing the neighborhood with a xylophone in an attempt at starting a pop group. To using his training pants to steal a mean neighbor’s fish pond and turn them into his army of sharks, he abhorred boredom and loved making mischief wherever he went. Usually, the adults in the situation get the upper hand, but sometimes Sweeny wins and gets to humiliate the grown-ups, proudly stuffing his face with candy or laughing as they sink into the literal quicksand. Sometimes Sweeny speaks in full toddler-talk (“Me want to go slide!” he says at one point), and sometimes his speech is much more sophisticated and laden with Chucky-style puns. The end result is general chaos with a very entertaining art style.
The book effortlessly evokes that certain EIC Comics look, the one Martin and Baxendale’s British humor mag colleagues trafficked in. Water, eggs, plaster, and tears rain down in large cartoonish drops, and Sweeny’s jowls prematurely sag like an elderly man’s whenever he pouts. It’s the kind of story that just begs for some sort of animated special and manages to amuse the eye effortlessly.
Naturally, this is a strip that won’t appeal to everyone. I didn’t really enjoy stories that focused on actual pain being meted out. (There are strips where Sweeny is held in place under a heavy beanbag-style doll, for instance, and another where he’s suspended from a ceiling fan as punishment for making his mother eat wallpaper paste. They’re well-earned just deserts, and the violence stays within acceptable bounds of the over-the-top nature of the strip, but it’s a little uncomfortable to witness anyway.) Some folks might find this somewhat troubling, depending on how sensitive you are to the idea of children being in peril, no matter how bratty. But don’t let that fully dissuade you from trying the volume out. But in general, Sweeny Toddler is amusing, though not life changing. But if you need a laugh, it could lift your spirits at the right time.