Review: Cortland

When it comes to comics and storylines, there’s generally a pretty strong divide between the serious action/drama comics and the fun little gag-a-day comics, and this divide is best expressed in the art style. The action comics are often closer to a realistic style (with the ever-present exception of anime), whereas the gag-a-days are done in a much more free-form, “cartoony” style (such as the chibi  or super-deformed style). And then there’s Cortland, which is about the most adorable drama you will ever see.

Cortland is the product of one Matt Johnson, a graphic designer and generally all-around great guy with the horrible misfortune of being located in the middle of nowhere. It is also the central kernal around which Cornstalker Comics was formed. That, of course, was a terribly corny pun. Dear heavens, it just got worse. Shoot me now.

… where was I? Ah, yes, the comic: From the start, Cortland sets itself up as a mock-epic, or perhaps a comedy of non-sequitur pratfalls. The main villain, I. T., is introduced pretty quickly, and by the second page we’ve also met the main character, Terry Cortland. Having met Johnson in person, I can tell you pretty quickly that yes, Cortland is a self-insert character, and he bears all the markings of a Mary Sue, including being much smarter than his superiors and always being right. It really doesn’t help when he starts to metamorphose into Neo the next day. And then we’re treated to a Dilbert-style lambasting of corporate hypocrisy.

But the pendulum swings toward the mock-epic again, including a bullet-time joke, another Matrix reference, complete with the usual strawmen that get used against PC users, and the inevitable anticlimax. But then it swings back to Dilbertitis. And back to Matrix.  (Note the cameo of Cortland/Johnson’s younger brother.) The Mac, of course, turns out to be the savior of the world, shortly before the strip swings back to Dilbertland again. Are you getting the pattern yet?

The problem is, the adorable three-heads-tall art style pretty much fails to do justice to either style of plot.  You end up having enough trouble believing that the cute little folks are actually old enough to work anywhere without breaking child labor laws (the effect becomes much more disturbing in such comics as Love Is, in which the naked child-like figures are supposedly married adults), but the effect grows that much more disturbing when he tries to depict anything approaching dramatic. Was the disintegrating cyborg supposed to be frightening? Full of pathos? Comedic? You really don’t know.

It occurs to me that I’ve written quite a bit and only looked over less than 1/16 of the current comic.

So we go back to the Dilbertisms again. And hey, there goes the fourth wall. Johnson wisely decides to stay with the Dilbert-style jokes for a while. I say “wisely” as a matter of my own opinion, considering that the art style fits the “comedy of the absurd” moments much better than it does when it eventually returns to the “serious” storylines.

Let’s not forget to put in a plug for our other favorite comics. I point this out knowing full well that I’ve done this repeatedly in my own comics, but good grief that doesn’t make it right in this case. Or anywhere close to deft. Likewise, allow me to point out that nudity is also best left avoided as an adult topic in a cartoonish strip format.

I’m curious as to who the two people in the lower-left corner of the inaccurately named Strip 100 are, as I don’t think we’ve seen them before in the comic.

And lo and behold, he swings back to the mock-epic.  I think you get the pattern that this comic will have for the ollowing 700-odd pages. Like any adventure/superhero comic, the bosses continue to escalate and grow more absurd, while the hero continues to pull random powers out of various orifices. Not to mention there are so many deaths and resurrections and returns-from-the-brink that I really don’t feel like linking them. Maybe I should take a dinner break.

*sounds of eating ensue*

And now we find out that the main villain is actually Steve Jobs and that Cortland is actually a super-programmer and . . .

. . . and I’m off my dinner. I can’t tell if the comic is taking itself seriously at this point. I haven’t even gotten to the part where I get a cameo, the random asides into what online forums are really like, or any of that. But the plot only gets thicker, more characters get introduced, personal lives get thrown in, and the comic still can’t figure out which way it wants to go.

And if you try to please everyone, you’ll please no one in the end. And as awesome a guy as Matt Johnson is, his comic could use some ironing out as to which direction it wants to go . . . except it’s actually stopped going. The comic reached about as happy an ending as it can (Terry Cortland died for your cyber-sins), and good luck to the author in whatever else he wants to do.

Comic Rating: Nine hours to drive across Nebraska on a good day.

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