Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Webcomics Weekly. What morsels of webcomic goodness do we have for you all this week? Is it sweet and relatable, like “Dungeon Mini?” Performative and spicy, like “Edith?” Or is it bitter but delicious, haunting you with its smoky flavors, like “Lost Nightmare?” Perhaps it is refreshing and new, despite being an old classic, like “The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn.” Or perhaps, it has clowns. Terrifying, terrifying clowns, like “Cirque Royale.”
What? Not even my attempts at themed introductions can survive clowns.
No New Friends parts 1-5
By Brittany Granville
Reviewed by Dexter Buschetelli
Dear sweet baby Cthulu, Eldritch god of horror, it had to be clowns.
My journey through the world of webcomics in this column has led to some interesting places. There have been strips with beautiful art, biting humor, and poignant commentary. There’s also been a lot that I have intentionally skipped over as to not write a negative review of, because–at least for the purposes of this particular column–I’m not interested in doing such. I avoided such series due to those strips being poorly produced, of questionable content, or because they made me deeply uncomfortable due to personal reasons.
In my hunt for content this week I very nearly passed over “Cirque Royale” due to that last particular point. My name is Dexter Buschetelli, and I have a deep-seated fear and discomfort related to clowns. This isn’t uncommon. Whether it is due to Tim Curry’s performances as Pennywise or, in my case, a childhood viewing of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, clowns are disturbing to a significant portion of the population.
Were it not for an interesting bit of commentary in the most recent “Cirque Royale” installment, I might not be typing these very words, but the series actually touches on this representation of clowns in media. Created by artist Brittany Granville, “Cirque Royale” follows the regular lives of the new Royal Clown family. It’s a quirky toon, with a visual style that many would equate today to the so-called “CalArts style” but, truly, is more reminiscent of the older old-school animations which influence more modern projects like 2017’s Cuphead video game.
“Cirque Royale” is visually simplistic, but it plays with its own style to make creepy cute and vice versa. There’s something off-putting about the presentation of these characters that you simultaneously can’t look away from. Coupled with some story elements and dialogue that offer unique insights into not only cartoons and clowns, but all of pop-culture, “Cirque” does a fine job in these five most recent posts of introducing a new follower to its own bizarre setting.
Claudette Klownikov, the Clown Princess, makes a new friend in part four of ‘No New Friends’ in Lottie, the Yarn Princess. But the crux of part five is what gave me pause to check “Cirque Royale” out and subsequently recommend it here. Lottie and Claudette bond over their love of “Swamp Princess” and as they discuss their favorite characters, Lottie brings up the “Killer Klownfish,” a caricature Claudette refers to as racist and a negative portrayal of mental illness. This meta-commentary on is well played, most especially with Claudette’s reaction to Lottie stating she never noticed, where Claudette responds “people don’t usually notice if it’s not them.”
I wouldn’t call myself an ally to clowns as of yet, but damned if this is not an on-point commentary about the use of caricatures and stereotypes in media, most especially children’s cartoons, and it makes “Cirque Royale” something worth looking into. Also, it’s good to know it actually hurts when you squeeze their noses, just in case I ever need that info in the future.
Reviewed by Robbie Pleasant
“Dungeon Minis” continues its quest, by which I mean the players’ quest to drive their DM insane. As a dungeon master, I can sympathize entirely with the DM’s plight, especially when he pulls out a list of all the ridiculous names his players have made him use over the years. (Although as a player in a game where they spent no small amount of time in a town called Schlodong, I can relate to both sides of this.) But since the players have established the Animu Kingdom, we get… a JoJo reference!Continued below
Specifically, a reference to “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” part 3, Stardust Crusaders, and the scene where Jotaro beats D’arby in a game of poker by bluffing intensely. A reference that specific lets you know FierceFerrets knows their JoJo. It also indicates the exact moment the DM starts losing his mind, as his own players have driven him to drink.
Most dungeon masters can relate.
So we get relatable, humorous D&D content and JoJo’s references. That’s enough to make these past five pages enjoyable.
The comic shifts between color and black and white panels, based on the situation. Out of game scenes are all colored, while in-game scenes only get bits of color for text boxes and the occasional eyes. The designs remain cartoonish and more on the minimalist side both in and out of game, but it sets the tone nicely.
One strip also gives us a FAQ comic, where the characters answer questions from readers. I had to note that when they answered the “What edition are you playing?” question, they described it as “the super fun and amazingly underrated 4th edition,” which… could potentially trigger edition wars, and comes across like they’ve had to defend 4e a few too many times. (There are some players who love 4th edition D&D, and others who hate it with a passion.) We also learn a little more about the characters, like how the cleric, Morgan, is agender (they just go with “a vessel for Pelor,” which I can respect) and how the party met. It adds some nice details to the characters, including backstory that would otherwise not be evident from reading the comic, so it lets us know them a little more.
“Dungeon Minis” continues to be an enjoyable little tabletop adventure, even as the players drive the DM insane. Plus, there’s always JoJo references.
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
Edith is a woman with standards, SwansGarden’s romance webcomic focuses on her idea of what she thinks she wants and what happens in reality. As she wakes up we get an idea of those standards, the dream of Prince Charming from not-Disney’s Sleeping Beautfy. As she wakes up SwansGarden art quickly contrasts the idealized vision shown on TV and Edith herself. She doesn’t look bad, no one really looks good waking up in the morning, but it helps to establish her inner voice, insecurities, and the performance/costuming she puts on when she eventually meets a friend for coffee.
“Edith” would make a nice piece with another performative series, “Snotgirl,” as both series emphasize the bifurcated nature of social media identity and the gap between them. When Edith goes out to a bar, Garden has a habit of dissecting Edith’s body with panels emphasizing her womanly attributes or costume but rarely in full view. Normally I’d find that awkward, but here it fits the overall point of what people, like Annoying Drunk Guy, see in her before they even know her. It is also a visual scheme Garden uses to represent what Edith finds most attractive in the guys, showing that similarly lacks a full view of people she dismissively writes off as below her standards.
Garden’s cartooning is fantastic in these early strips. The way she just makes one outside line a bit thicker than the other to emphasize appearance and her eyes. Edith is a woman with standards, and normally in this romance setting that’d make her a bit of if not a nag-unlikeable due to her inability to see beyond them. The parade of early boyfriends, anonymous they maybe, all have same look that is creepy but also charming. Her cartooning though gives Edith such an expressive quality that she comes off as dimensional and human extremely quickly. The panel as she stares out the window after waking up with this expression of, just another day, slightly hunched over is wonderful.
SwansGarden realizing Edith’s insecurities isn’t groundbreaking, negative self-speak invades and converses with her. There’s a rawness to it that when mixed with the cartooning is beautifully effective when she eventually breaks down after coffee with a friend. These moments often come in the gutter space between panels, with their spacing you could consider them panels unto themselves. Which helps to further emphasize the gap between reality and idealized reality projected onto the Gram.Continued below
There is some depression and what not swirling through this strip, but it’s also a romantic comedy of sorts. The meet cutes maybe a little standard but there’s a bit of verve to them that helps. Garden lands a couple of solid jokes and with the character acting via cartooning is quickly able to sell things faster and more effectively than other strips in this vein.
Overall “Edith” is a fascinating romance strip that manages to be cute, charming, and ugly all at once.
Pages 8.01 – 8.10
By Julia K. (a.k.a. Miyuli)
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi
The final chapter of “Lost Nightmare” hits the ground running, with the final confrontation between the Boogeyman and the Sandman moving ahead, while Jasper struggles with this own duality.
It interesting to witness this encounter finally unfold, after so much of the series has been built on top of that. The author certainly chose an off-kilter way of playing it out, with the confrontation being essentially a debate, an exchange of opinions and memories. And, yet, despite the lack of action, it works remarkably well, since “The Lost Nightmare” has never set this one to be an aggressive clash.
Over at Jasper, another compelling discussion unfolds, that of nature versus nurture. With the reveal some chapters back that Jasper is indeed a dream, but raised as a nightmare after the Sandman cast him aside. While certainly tone down to an all ages approach, “The Lost Nightmare” does not shy away to carry this conversation forward, and it will be quite compelling to witness it end, and its implication, before the series is over.
The main fault of this update – and of several others that preceded it – is the absolute lack of Ink, the conceptual lead character. Yes, he is mentioned often and the entire update swirls around the other players trying to secure him, but he is nowhere to be found.
Art is lovely just as usual. Colors, expressions, backgrounds, they all come together for a very coherent whole, aligned with these characters and with the series since its inception.
With its plot near its end, “The Lost Nightmare” certainly heads to a satisfying conclusion, if it misses some opportunities around pacing and its main lead.
The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn
By Tri Vuong
Chapter 69 & 70 colored by Irma Kniivila
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
‘The Ghost of Witch Lake’ begins as each of the previous adventures has, with a bit of a history lesson, a setting of the mood, and an assertion by Oscar that, once again, this is not his story but it is a story for him to tell. This assertion, now more than just a repeated phrase, redefines the title of the series in a way I hadn’t considered until now. In one way, the way I took the title and the way it is intended to be read on the surface is that these are the strange tales of which Oscar Zahn is the primary focus. These are his tales, his adventures. That is still true but, read instead, the emphasis not on “tales” but on “of.” These are Oscar Zahn’s stories, tales to tell by a campfire, to recount to friends and strangers on a cold winter’s night.
He is not the focus of the stories, merely an observer, a recorder, and, sometimes, an integral piece of the action, but always a secondary player in the drama of another.
It seems that the hiatus did Vuong well. Between ‘Doppleganger’ 3 and these updates, there was around a year of break, over which Vuong’s skill did not atrophy, instead coming back stronger than ever. The pacing, which has often been an issue for Vuong’s stories, feels much more solid this time around, taking the time to revel in the atmosphere and build multiple plot lines that can run concurrently. The writing, too, is a lot tighter, with a greater interplay between dialog and visuals, in particular when it comes to setting the tone.
Vuong’s opening chapter is suitably eerie, using a heavy amount of pinks and blues and lavender to compliment the darkness of the island and the red and black of the spectres. In fact, he once again uses his spectral blue to color the ghosts and the fey, unifying the world between adventures more. He does this, too, with the appearance of Agnes and the Doppleganger, with whom Oscar is staying. It’s details like that that help tie the universe of “Oscar Zahn” together in ways beyond his presence and makes this feel less like a series of short stories with a central character but instead a grander narrative.Continued below
This is shaping up to be a heavy arc as well, more so than the previous ‘Stardust and Soliloquies.’ That arc was more melancholic, which Vuong has shown he can handle, but the somber and mysterious drama of this arc requires a more subtle touch, and he absolutely nails it. His willingness to trust his art to carry the mood amplifies the quiet moments, which in turn gives them the power they need to be truly effective. It’s also very funny. Oscar is a goof and with a greater understanding of how to bring that out without relying on high amounts of dialog, Vuong is able to make Oscar’s dry humor sing once again, adding levity to a story that could easily have stayed more grim that it otherwise should have.
‘The Ghost of Witch Lake’ opens on this series’ strongest aspects, showing the growth the creator has made in the iterum, and promising much more to come.