Posts Tagged slice of life

Review: Squid Row

So those of my readers who have tried dabbling in artistic ventures know that it can be a lot of hard work. Sure, some artwork looks effortless (and other works look like no effort was put into them, which is a bigger difference than you’d think), and sure, the average cartoonist will use no more muscles than absolutely necessary to get pencil to paper (or stylus to tablet), but the mental work that goes into crafting a storyline (or a punchline, for that matter) can be monumental. And anyone else who’s striven for verisimilitude knows the agony of sketching and resketching a picture, trying to figure out why that elbow doesn’t look quite right.* The difficulty that arises, though, is that for all that hard work, the pay rate isn’t all that good.

And few people know this as intimately as does Randie Springlemeyer, the main character of Squid Row, a slice-of-life comic by Bridgett Spicer. Hapless artist Randie lives and worries in a fictional variant of Monterey, California, where she works shifts at an art-supply store (an exquisite form of torture, when you think about it). The comic follows her exploits as she deals with rival artists, well-meaning relatives, library fines, and a very well-meaning best friend. Also the occasional disaster.

Yes, the slice of Randie’s life is a rather blue-colored cross-section, cataloguing all the frustrations she faces in work, art, and romantic matters. And perhaps because Randie has so many problems, it makes the little victories and kindnesses so much more enjoyable. (It also makes the moments of whimsy rather more fun, too.)

(I will pause here to note that Spicer has only recently set up the new site, so her archives are the devil to search through. I hope the links continue to work; it was a pain in the neck when, less than a week after the Sandra and Woo review came out, their site changed the archive system and all of the links had to be updated. But I digress.)

Squid Row‘s art style has changed quite a bit from its inception, using more varied linework, visual puns, and knock-off brands. And while the soulful eyes sometimes look a little strange on a twenty-something hipster or a sullen co-worker, it really brings out Randie’s willfully naive nature.

Which is sort of what the comic is all about, when you get down to it: a young woman trying to be a Pollyanna in spite of everything life throws at her. And the sheer fact that she hasn’t given up is enough reason to keep reading.

Comic Rating: Four cups of fancy, fancy coffee.

* Because it’s the left elbow, of course. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

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Review: Multiplex

For the year and a half before my recent move, I was on-and-off dating an amazing young lady who happened to work at a movie theater. (Speaking of which, if she’s reading this, hi! You remain awesome.) Her hours and mine were sometimes wildly incompatible, meaning conventional dates were out of the question, but we’d often take walks through downtown Provo and chat about various things. Occasionally, the conversation would turn to the latest bit of drama among the theater staff or the latest bit of head-turning cluelessness from the patrons. She even started sketching a few comics to vent her frustrations.

It turns out, however, that she’s not the only one who’s wanted to do such a comic. Take, for example, Multiplex, a soap opera-style comic created by Gordon McAlpin. The stupid, impolite, and disingenuous customers certainly show up in force. The emphasis of the comic, however, is placed more on the tangled ball of relationships resulting from a hectic workplace with a variable staff of teenagers and young adults. And let me warn you now: being a soap opera with plenty of young adults, Multiplex is not. Work. Safe. McAlpin even hangs a lampshade on the fact.

Keeping up with the story gets a little tough, however, when there are so very many different characters to keep up with, most of whom only get a few fractions of a page of face time. Sure, it’s realistic to have unfamiliar faces show up, but half the time when a side character gets pulled into the spotlight, you’re left scratching your head and saying, “Who was that?”

Adding to the confusion, the staff characters like to cosplay as characters from current movies. This is often also a means of making various subtle references to features of the movies or to the goings-on backstage. Those who aren’t up-to-date on the latest celebrity gossip will frequently be left clueless.

The comic also tends to delve into political and religious disagreements, but over the course of the comic, McAlpin puts in the effort to be fair. Sure, one Christian is a certifiable airhead, but then she and the other Christian get more depth as characters. And while the progressive-minded atheist of the group gets his moments to feel superior to the ignorant among the faithful, he also gets his comeuppance now and then. The comic walks a fine line, and it’s a testament to McAlpin’s skill that he can keep it from tipping over.

Multiplex was originally meant to be a series of Flash cartoons (as alluded to here), and the art style reflects it, starting mainly as easy-to-animate colorforms. The style has grown slowly more complex, though, and sometimes the scenery is simply mind-blowing. McAlpin bases the comic in his hometown of Chicago, and the familiarity really shows.

So on the one hand, Multiplex is a crude comic full of sex scenes, crude language, innuendo, and racial slurs. And on the other hand, it’s a very well-written comic with intertwining plots, thought-provoking concepts, and a willingness to be unabashedly nerdy on a specialized subject. It’s likely to be a guilty pleasure for anyone who spends a lot of time at the theater, on either side of the counter.

Comic rating: Eight sides (at least) on the love polygon.

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Review: Sandra and Woo

A few hours before writing this review, I was cleaning out a closet (the joys of moving and resettling) and got clocked in the forehead by an unexpected large decorative glass thing-a-ma-bob. It inspired a good deal of pain, dizziness, nausea, and nostalgia for all things that involve surprise attacks by somewhat softer things. Calvin and Hobbes, for instance.

So imagine my delight when I remembered the comic Sandra and Woo, written by Oliver Knörzer, drawn by Powree, and copy edited by Sarah Dunphy. This is one of the first officially multilingual comics I’ve reviewed, being also available in German. Seeing as my own skill with German only goes up to recognizing what an eszett is, however, I’ll have to limit myself to reviewing the English portion of the comic.

The combination of a German writer, an Indonesian artist, and an American editor leads to some interesting complications for the comic. Speech bubbles that would be fine for a sentence in German wind up being rather loose around a laconic English equivalent. And sometimes the translation doesn’t account for styles of speech, leading to the oddly charming “be damned!” moment or two. And the art is unabashedly Asian in style. That last part isn’t really a complaint, other than the big sparkly eyes and Hime Cut on a girl named Sandra North feeling strangely incongruous.

Another side effect of the multinational team-up is that the comic will occasionally take a turn for the political. Sometimes it’s part of a plot arc, but rather often it just sort of pops up out of the blue.

On the one hand, Sandra and Woo acknowledges the influence of Calvin and Hobbes quite openly–and does it twice, just to make sure. On the other, Hobbes’ token solo adventure didn’t end in a spin-off set of friends or successful hunting, so Knörzer is safe from any copyright infringement problems. (Granted, Bill Watterson would have to get past all those Calvin-defiles-a-logo truck stickers first anyway.)

Sandra does, however, share Calvin’s capacity for sophisticated sarcasm, as well as his strong eco overtones. Of course, she also lives in a world where just about all animals have proven human intelligence, so saving various wildlife species may be more an exercise in keeping the neighbors happy. Of course, given that people can legally (or at least openly) keep raccoons as pets in her world, I may be way off base.

Sandra’s precociousness may seem a bit strange at first, especially to those who haven’t read Calvin and Hobbes, but it makes a good deal more sense once you realize that Sandra probably had to grow up really quickly. Her mother is deceased, and her father doesn’t always pay her terribly much attention. (In fact, as one of my friends pointed out, it seems like all of the adults are video game addicts for one reason or another. At least it seems to come in handy sometimes.) And now she has to deal with a talking raccoon that could almost seem like an imaginary friend . . . or schizophrenic hallucination. An extensive vocabulary doesn’t seem like such a big deal now, does it?

So in the end, has Calvin and Hobbes found a weekly successor? You’ll have to answer for yourself, but this pun tips the scales for me.

Comic Rating: Three stuffed animals. They couldn’t eat another bite.

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Review: Three Panel Soul

Way back in 2002, I was first introduced to webcomics by my amazing friend Diana, who showed me Megatokyo, by Fred Gallagher. I read through a good deal of it before finding a guest comic by Ian McConville and Matt Boyd, the respective artist and author of Mac Hall, a comic about a bunch of guys living together in a dorm during their college days. But the college days must come to a close sooner or later, and what do you do then?

If you’re McConville and Boyd, you bring the college comic to an end and start up one about the rigors of adult life. Enter Three Panel Soul. As the name suggests, each comic is limited (or stretched) to three panels; this even extends to the sketch pages put up when there isn’t a comic. And where Mac Hall’s comics focused almost entirely on the sorts of raunchy humor that goes on in and around college, 3PS is just as likely to go down the pensive route. I’d call it “soulful,” but that would just accentuate the pun. Except I just did, so the point is moot.

McConville uses an intentionally sketchy art style for the comic. (If you doubt it’s deliberate, take a look at the animation in this page‘s rant box.) That’s not to say that some of the shiny, colorful styles developed in Mac Hall don’t make the occasional comeback, usually for comics set in MMORPGs. Sometimes the super-deformed style makes a comeback as well. In retrospect, the art style changes as frequently as does the mood of the comic. But the sketchy, semi-realistic style is something of a baseline, certainly the most frequent. In statistics terms, it would be called the “mode.” And it’s relatively easy on the eyes, in all its pseudomonotone splendor.

Having but three panels per comic to work with, 3PS doesn’t generally do much in the way of plot. There’s a small story arc revolving around the way Matt reacts to the death of his grandfather, but for the most part, the comic follows the whims of the duo, devoting equal time to mocking commercials, making obscure pop-culture puns, referencing older Mac Hall jokes, turning sentimental moments into introspective comedy, and letting loose with the positively bizarre.

This, of course, is split around the basic slice-of-life material that the comic gravitates toward. Hey, if you want to write a journal, you might as well enjoy it. I personally can relate to this comic far too well, although other comics can really only come from his point of view. And sometimes a certain amount of the surreal peeks through. The jokes are crude sometimes, but sometimes it feels like that’s to be expected from an online comic. Sad, but there you go.

In the end, 3PS is an entertaining comic with a variety of jokes and observations. And a couple of prancing death knights. And a cat named Schrodinger. I mean, how cool is that?

Comic Rating: Three panels.

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