Webcomics Weekly #86: Post-Martha’s Day Edition (5/12/20 edition)

By | May 12th, 2020
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Webcomics Weekly continues its march to our 100th edition, but first we have to get through this post-Mother’s Day edition. This week we get a well executed “lore dump” that’s really a character piece in “Agents of the Realm.”Elias takes a look at the trippy new series from Alanphabetology, but maybe that’s a “Bad Sign.” Characters in “The Otherknown” have no time for learning. The return of “Sam & Fuzzy.” The career of Trekker Mercy St. Claire gets complicated as she navigates warring factions and emotions after being arrested.

Agents of the Realm
Pages 289-306(Ch6)
Schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays
By Mildred Louis
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane

And so Jade’s story comes to an end and the new Agents and audience are all caught up. That idea of “catching up” is an interesting one in fantasy narratives, a genre where audiences often care about the “lore” of things. On some level you could argue this emphasis on lore is an attempt to find the many stories within a story, more often however it comes across like dry wiki entries about material that lacks a narrative. This sort of lore is more plot based, the skeleton of storytelling not storytelling itself. Jade’s backstory is functionally a big lore dump for readers as they get answers to functionality questions that have been lingering for well over a hundred pages. This sequence of pages, the past 25 at least, however, do not fall into the common trap of confusing “lore” and “world building” with actual storytelling. By the time we reach page 307 and returned to the present we know why there are monsters, why Ruby appears to have bone bad, etc. But those answers are only effective because Mildred Louis has wrapped a narrative of regret around it, how rash actions out of anger led to Jade not just losing her mother but her father as well. As Ruby and Jade argue we see why they have split and why all those functional questions actually matter. They’re all a byproduct of a character’s actions, characters are driving plot not the other way around.

The core of Ruby and Jade’s argument is fairly repetitive when you break it down. Jade is very angry and not ok with how everyone is putting on a show of moving on and appearing to leave her behind in her grief. Ruby on the other hand has fully bought into the narrative of the needs of the many as a coping mechanism, putting them on opposed paths. Their dialog maybe a bit repetitive, like most fights and sibling arguments are honestly, but those are never really about what is being said. It’s about what isn’t being said and Louis captures the pain and anger in Jade’s voice s well that you can see what isn’t being said. Not that she’d be receptive to it, but she could use a hug and someone telling her it’s “not her fault.”

This is just a nice aside and another example of the plainly excellent lettering in this strip. With names like Ruby and Jade it isn’t surprising that their designs are color coded with red and green motifs. I just realized that Ruby and Jade’s word balloons are also color coded! This is just a smart call, they may be color coded but their designs are still very similar I was confusing them a bit. And than I realized that “oh” you need to pay attention to the colors. I now must go back and look and see if this was a thing in the earlier pages.

BadSign :1 – 8
Updates: Thursdays
By Alanphabetology
Reviewed by Elias Rosner

Alanphabetology is back with a new series and it’s just as trippy as “Jonah and the Dark Arts.” I made the comparison last time to Flapjack but “Bad Sign” is much more reminiscent of Pendelton Ward’s newest series The Midnight Gospel.
Sharing much of the same surreal DNA as Alan’s previous series, “BadSign” is a touch more impenetrable. As of writing there are eight episodes out, and they tell the story of a mysterious portal, Altered States-esque channeling of other dimensions/times, and the chuckle-fucks on both sides of this hole in the world. If you were to be reading these week by week, important details are almost certainly going to slip by you, such as the note from page 4 showing up again on page 8 after a change in scenery, as is what happened to me.

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Upon rereading, I noticed a ton of things I’d missed and forgotten that greatly enhanced my understanding of the story, insofar as the story can be understood, and that does harm the comic. It can be a barrier to entry, especially because the plot doesn’t really matter but having a general understanding is helpful for staying invested. Strong comedy and absurdism can only go so far on their own.

That said, the story plays with audience perception in an almost Morisonian-way, literally having a portal that’s just a white circle cut out of the page, obfuscating our own view of the comic, but instead of getting stuck navel gazing with grand speeches and explanations, the series doesn’t explain jack and lets us figure it out for ourselves. This obfuscation is deliberate and is in part because the characters don’t know shit and in part because they’re all really, REALLY stupid and self-involved, providing much of the series’ comedy.

I love these trash fires. They’re so much fun to watch. While the story is present, the enjoyment comes the way Alan renders the character’s dialog and thus their personalities. The flat pastel coloring and simple linework helps with the comedy, as no one looks “real” and instead look like play-doh people, half of whom are cheerfully dense and the other half are done with the other’s shit. I think the exchange that exemplifies this is at the bottom of the first part of ‘Bad Sign :8.’ The lettering gets tiny, the expressions are claustrophobically close, and the panels are small and close together. All signs of a tense scene. But the character’s pupils go from making them look like fish to mischevious to stern plays-by-his-own-rules cop and the end line, “why’s it always kooky interdimensional babes with you?” doesn’t gel.

And that conflict drives the comedy. Well, that and the sheer ridiculousness of them freaking out and committing arson over a piece of paper that says HELLO THERE in a crystal font.

The Otherknown
Chapter 2, Pages 37-41
Updates: Wednesday/Saturday
By Lora Merriman
Reviewed by, Jason Jeffords Jr

Our last update focused on Chandra, well this quick one focuses on Reed, and the others around him. So get ready to learn! Or not, as Reed (like any kid) has no time/want for learning! How realistic!

Surprisingly, Chapter 2, Pages 37-41 only has Reed in for two pages, and that’s just to set up a conflict. Granted, it is nice to see him, and know that he is like other kids and isn’t a fan of learning. But, the pages actually revolve around Hannah Hutton more, and her random encounter with Demeck. Honestly, we haven’t seen much of Hutton before, with her only gracing the pages every once in a while to say a few things. So, these pages spent on her are nice, while making me like the character for her attitude. On that note, Merriman drops some very interesting tidbits.

Hutton mentions how Demeck is a “career criminal,” but they’re the ones “serving life.” Within just a few panels Merriman gives some huge information that’ll make you want to rush through the series. I had an inkling that the people working here may have a sketchy past, yet this piques my interest even more. Throughout “The Otherknown,” Merriman has been building the world slowly with little hints here and there. I’m all for that! And this time felt like a huge tease to learning something in the future.

Pages 37-41 doesn’t have anything in the way of “flashy” for the art, but Merriman’s facial emotions, background colors, and lettering are superb. With these pages focusing more on plot and emotion, she makes you feel how each character is emoting with their facial reaction. Not only that, in some cases, she’ll drop the busy background that shows the room and make it one or more colors to amplify said emotion. These moments are great, yet the lettering cannot be dismissed for how it elevates these moments.

When Hutton is going off on Reed for his attitude, the colors behind her show her anger, while her face emotes it, while the lettering has sharp edges instead of a circle. In the next panel when the focus is off of the duo and Hutton is still yelling, the lettering forgoes the white boxes and uses black marker lines with white lettering. This change of style makes her response feel more heated and hits the delivery much harder.

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The pages end with Hutton getting a mysterious phone call. I mean, we can probably guess who, but damn am I excited for the next update!

Sam & Fuzzy
They Call Him Dr. Love, pts. 1-9
Updates: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
By Sam Logan
Reviewed by Dexter Buschetelli

Happy Martha Day, everyone! It’s good to be back from a bit of a long hiatus on reviewing “Sam & Fuzzy.” I hope you all are well during these–just let me be cliched here–trying times. But let us not dwell on things of the negative persuasion. Instead, why don’t we just delve back into the wonderful world of webcomics!

I can’t think of a better way to be pulled back into the swing of things than with a reference to the greatest rock and roll band of all time. ‘They Call Him Dr. Love’ is exactly the type of wonderfully bonkers stories that have entertained me in “Sam & Fuzzy” and the pop-culture nod of the arc title makes me want to give Role Models a rewatch. It follows our titular boys on a reunion with the arc’s titular character, an analogous version of Dr. Phil, except he’s a “CRAB-HEAD-MAN” in a robot suit. Actually, come to think of it, that isn’t that far off from the regular version.

‘They Call Him Dr. Love’ starts off as humorous as any “Sam & Fuzzy” arc with the aforementioned M.D. advising a mother on his show. Martha’s son, who may or may not be named Bruce or Clark, is addicted to a murder simulator and if you have a problem with that you can cash his Gyrados outside. The segment rolls by quickly but still does an effective job of lampooning one of television’s many fake–but popular–“doctors.”

All of that said, I’ve come to realize something about “Sam & Fuzzy” as a whole: It is very hit or miss, for a variety of reasons. When it is working optimally the series is hilarious. There’s a sharp wit to Sam Logan’s writing that at times is even high-brow. It also contains some very competent world-building and character exploration that you would hope to expect from such a long running series. That said, when it doesn’t work it falls especially flat. There’s often too much focus on flashbacks explaining Fuzzy’s relationship with Hazel–my least favorite aspect in these reviews–and a general inconsistency in tone that my brain has been unable to reconcile this past year and a half or so.

Moreover, the art has always been a bit of an issue for me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with what Sam Logan does in “Sam & Fuzzy,” but there’s something that just doesn’t work about it for me, personally. Sight gags are most often presented clearly and pick up the slack for the overall product and are often the things I have praised in previous reviews. But there’s an aesthetic choice with the character design of Sam and much of the rest of the cast I have always felt falls flat. While Fuzzy has an inventive look and carries the strips well, everyone else at times just feels, to be quite frank, very generic.

This is all a subjective take, as Logan’s pen work, perspectives, and use of contrast in blacks against whites almost always sticks the landing. But the look of this comic has never really resonated with me. There is something to be said in how long “Sam & Fuzzy” has been running, and how it has clearly cultivated an audience, but I’m just not sure I want to be a part of that audience anymore. Even a send-up of Oprah’s favorite purse-puppy I fear can’t keep me hooked.

I honestly wish I had better things to say, as Logan has worked hard keeping his brand thriving for a lot of years at this point, and has done an admirable job. But after such a period of time away from this subject as I have taken, coming back to it forces me to take stock of how much I really am not enjoying it. So I am forced to look at the Marie Kondo in the room–as she is legitimately pointing a gun at me–and accept that it is time to let go of things that do not bring me joy.

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As bitter of a farewell as this review is of “Sam & Fuzzy,” it isn’t to say I have not enjoyed reviewing Sam Logan’s opus magnum. There’s a lot to love about it. But I’m simply not in love with it, and that is okay. I hope my reviews to an admittedly small degree have driven some traffic Sam’s way. It’s a worthy series that you should at least give a look and decide for yourself about. But for my money, or lack thereof with free content on the internet, there’s other things that I feel deserve my attention.

I hate to end on a down-note, though so I would like to say I hope all you fans of webcomics and Multiversity Comics are well. It is not hyperbole to say these are difficult days we are all facing. I hope you are all taking care of yourselves, and treating each other with the proper compassion and empathy that all good people deserve. I look forward to bringing you another recommendation next week for a bit of escapism that is the madness of this world, and I hope that you are in as good of spirits as a good read can improve.

Pages: 1-11 Book 06 ‘The Babel Cannon’ Part 1
Schedule: Mondays
By Ron Randall(writing and art), Ken Bruzenak(lettering)
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane

Ron Randall continues to modify “Trekker” into something of a more serialized form with the start of ‘The Babel Cannon’ a two part story, that is setup by the events of the previous issue ‘The Janus Voyage.’ We even being this issue not on Mercy, or Paul, back in New Gelph checking in on Scuf. Mercy’s absence has not changed that four legged creatures disposition at all. Randall has in previous strips and issues moved the perspective away from Mercy, but this was done to setup the plot for her to eventually stumble on to. These two pages have no real plot significance, it’s just Molly and Uncle Alex talking about Mercy. Using the supporting cast to characterize Mercy isn’t new but even that was still more directly connected to plot. In a series that has been defined by expedient and efficient use of page space these two pages just being there for no reason other than to add flavor is interesting.

It also is there to setup just an excellent punchline for the credits page when we see what Mercy is up to: planning the death of Paul for not getting her out of space jail faster. Mercy isn’t too happy with being hoodwinked by Seva, Paul, and everyone else around her.

Even if she is out of jail, she still has a target on her head which draws her back in with a new job: find the titular canon. The canon is some typical sci-fi macguffery, a giant psychic beam of destruction. What makes the following 8 pages work is how Randall uses this plot setup, a quest, to force Mercy and Paul into a tight space and confront what it is they mean to one another. Paul wants more. Mercy doesn’t want to deal with any of this, in a nice twist of that scene from Empire Strikes Back. The character work is what makes all of this matter, without it this would be a fun enough action adventure strip, but the character work he’s layered in over the previous issues, ‘Janus Voyage’ in particular, make this work as something more. Through the use of a serialized narrative Randall is tying together and refining ideas from the previous one off adventures that gave readers an idea of Mercy into something that could keep going on a longer run.

//TAGS | Webcomics

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