Comical Musings


Review: dingBeans

by on Apr.19, 2010, under Review

When I was taking a course on Greco-Roman classics and their effect on English literature,* Dr. Talbot pointed out an interesting Latin word: senex. It translates roughly to “(grumpy) old man,” and from it we get words like senior, seneschal, Senate, and senile. I’m sure a lot of you know at least one senex; with a bit of prompting, you can probably remember his face and hear exactly his tone of voice as he goes off on a tangent about how much of the world has fallen apart since he was a kid.

I think senex is about the right word to describe Roy, the grizzled protagonist of Peter Denike’s dingBeans. Every day, Roy shares his (oft-misspelled) opinion on the most random subjects: compact fluorescent light bulbs, cell phones, TV shows, Christmas trees, you name it. His commentary is then analyzed by a handful of clip-art “beans” that represent the contrasting voices and thoughts in his (and most other people’s) heads.

dingBeans is essentially a daily mini-rant, and you can’t entirely tell whether Roy’s thoughts are Denike’s or his own. It’s not like this is an Earth-shattering deal, but it does sort of stand as the difference between Roy being an author avatar and Roy merely being Ziggy. Many of his remarks concern the loss of the good old days and the more simple ways of doing things. There is also a lot of commentary about the environment and how we should be doing a better job to protect it, which only makes sense for a fellow who mostly talks to beans.** And then below each comic is a little “beanTao”: one last comment on the topic of the day, sans punctuation.

The art is relatively homogeneous. That is to say, pretty much every comic consists of a single panel with a bust of Roy making one facial expression or another, plus Beans. It’s a simple set-up for a simple comic—which seems to be Denike’s aim. I do, however, find it amusing that the caricature of Roy is so detailed that his opinions read in a rather gruff and curmudgeonly “voice” in my mind.*** So if you want to sit back and take a few potshots at the way the world is going, I think Roy would enjoy the company.

Comic Rating: One hill of beans.

* Much more entertaining than it sounds.
** Vegetation takes care of its own.
*** On further consideration, I think said voice is based on some of the older men at church.

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Review: Escape from Terra

by on Mar.29, 2010, under Review

Those of my readers who are majoring in English (or similar programs) may have noticed an unintended side-effect from all that literary analysis: you start to watch movies for their plot. This becomes exasperating when you complain about a film, only to be shouted down that it was “pretty” or “awesome” or “technologically astounding,” as though the dialogue and actions were just filler text* between explosions. Implausible plots and lackluster half-dimensional characters are happily disregarded as long as the CG critters have enough supplemental material explaining how they’re biologically possible.

This is where I would normally go on to provide a link to the comic Escape from Terra, a science-fiction comic and political screed resulting from the collaborative efforts of Sandy Sandfort, Scott Bleser, and LEE OAKS** . . . and then just as I was getting ready to review it, the plot took a turn for the lesbian erotica. I don’t consider myself any sort of moral guardian or gatekeeper or anything like that***, but I can imagine the outrage from people I know if I were to link to stuff like that.

So suffice it that Escape from Terra takes place in the late 21st century, when space has been partially colonized and humanity is actively mining the asteroid belt for useful minerals and organics. Earth has unified into a single socialist government that preaches an exaggerated form of political correctness, which the people of the other planets want nothing to do with. The protagonist, Guy Caillard (pronounced “ghee,” as in French), is a United World agent sent to the asteroid Ceres in order to bring the residents under the same tax regulations as Earth. Once he gets a taste of libertarianism****, however, he promptly switches sides and becomes an accountant for the Cerereans.

The science-fiction technology is indeed fascinating, and the art is done decently well. That is to say, the spaceships and other artifacts look feasible, and characters are realistically proportioned, other than their mouths often getting too large*****. Unfortunately, the plot feels a bit like it was jammed in around technical explanations and explanations of why non-aggressive anarchy is the best political system. And this brings an interesting thought to mind:

Those of you who say that good visuals and intriguing creature/technology concepts excuse terrible characterization and a plot that mostly stands in for the writer’s political message******, look up Escape from Terra and see if you can make it all the way through. I won’t blame you if you can’t.

Comic Rating: Two hockey pucks.

* Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.
** Mr. Oaks provides his name in all caps on the EFT site. I presume he also affects a deeper, more dramatic voice whilst saying it.
*** This is an outright lie.
**** The fact that the buxom Fiorella Stellina also converts to libertarianism should not be discounted.
***** Then again, the comic was designed as a political soapbox. Perhaps big mouths are simply part and parcel.
****** Yeah, Avatar failed to impress me, if I haven’t made it a bit too obvious.

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Review: Brawl in the Family

by on Mar.22, 2010, under Review

I certainly hope that all of you out there in Readerland enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day in the manner of your choosing, be it tinted beverages, Shamrock Shakes, food coloring in unexpected places, chocolate coins, speaking in a terrible attempt at a Celtic accent*, wearing shamrock-shaped paraphernalia, singing “Danny Boy” one more time while people cry into their pints, pinching people for not wearing green**, or ignoring the holiday outright because you’re not Irish and don’t feel like pretending for a day. It was a good time to get in some festivities while the weather in the Northern Hemisphere goes from dingy gray to vibrant green.

Meanwhile, over on the pink end of the scale, there’s Nintento’s lovable puffball Kirby, who’s been borrowed as the main character for Matthew Taranto’s Brawl in the Family.*** While a fan-comic doesn’t do much for original characters, Taranto has fun with the characterization: Kirby has a crush on Jigglypuff; King Dedede is malicious, but not that bright (and has an eccentric relative in the neighborhood); Captain Falcon just can’t shut up; Waluigi is utterly befuddling; and personality quirks from various video games are extended to an endearingly silly level.

There isn’t really an overarching plot to BiTF, although there is a certain continuity between strips. Kirby and Diddy Kong remain good friends. King Dedede’s theft of Christmas becomes a pass-through gag. And Meta Knight gets some rather interesting revenge. For the most part, though, BiTF consists of quick little one-shot gags or odd little speculations on Kirby’s diet. A limited spectrum of jokes, perhaps, but it works just fine.

To say the art has evolved since the early days would be a bit of an understatement. Taranto’s basic style has stayed relatively constant, but the art itself has become generally smoother and more practiced (with a shot of color once every five comics). And the occasional homage to other art styles is generally done well. And then on top of all that, he sings (be warned, the page has sound that starts on loading). We’re looking at a talented artist who has fun with what he does, and even if some of the jokes are headscratchers, Brawl in the Family is a generally entertaining read.

Comic Rating: 100 points for that dead goomba, you monster.

* Ye blaguards ain’t foolin’ nobbut wi’ such a tinny brogue.
** As long as I can pinch back because you’re not wearing orange. The portion of my ancestry that goes back through the Emerald Isle is split between Ireland and North Ireland. The combination of Belfast and Dublin in one body leads to some interesting self-conflict, let me tell you.
*** These segues aren’t as easy as I make them look.

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Review: Dume

by on Mar.15, 2010, under Review

Let me preface this week’s review by saying that the place I work had a big fund-raising event over the weekend—the night before Daylight Savings Time, choir rehearsal, and a handful of other activities. So while no alcohol was involved for yours truly, there was still enough running about and acting energetic that I’m running on fumes. So if this review comes off as something of a wreck, it’s just art imitating life.

I’m an Ohioan, born and bred, which says the following about me:

  • I grew up surrounded by history, mosquitoes, and Amish folk.
  • My classmates had names like Frajter, Slepko, and Rzeszotarski, but somehow spelling “Shepherd” was beyond anyone’s grasp.
  • I think of Cleveland as a major metropolitan area, no matter how much this makes people laugh.
  • I have a love-hate relationship with Nature, which is sometimes adorable and placid . . . but also has a disturbing tendency to devour the garden, dig up the foundations of various outbuildings, leave “presents” for people to step in, fling itself under the bumper or at the windshield with wild abandon, and get itself trapped in the dumpster where it caterwauls for help.

One animal particularly adept at the dumpster-diving arts is the raccoon. So prevalent and hilarious is the raccoon in the area around my hometown that the whole county takes its name from the local native word for the little fuzzy bandits.

So when a friend directed me to read Dume, on account of one main character being a raccoon from Ohio, how could I resist? Well, as Randall the raccoon himself states, the real protagonist (and title character) is Dume, a chubby otter who was raised by hippie sandpipers and splits his time between sport and harassing his roommate in implausible ways.

And really, that’s just about the whole plot right there: The Odd Couple with surfboards. Sure, there’s a twitchy barista and the Little Red-Haired (fox) Girl, but most of the jokes revolve around Dume bothering Randall with his cheese-monkey randomness.* He even winds up with another character to provide the crazy when Dume’s just not enough.

The art, at least, is pleasant enough and consistent from one strip to the next. Sometimes it’s even self-referential. Some of the jokes and facial expressions remind me of Bloom County, for whatever reason, but not enough to set off any warnings. And sometimes it’s fun to see how far they can stretch things.

Of course, Dume hasn’t updated in close to six months now, having come to a halt just after an author-insert comic. I’m not sure whether to take that as Jonas and Rayce running out of ideas, time, or enthusiasm. Perhaps they’re merely taking a break until better waves come along.

Comic Rating: three hefty piles of neurosis.

* Sometimes, Jonas and Rayce do it to us instead for a change of pace.

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Review: Inhuman

by on Mar.08, 2010, under Review

A mere two reviews ago, I spent a little time discussing the philosophy of transhumanism and the dilemma it presents: would the casting off of human frailty, through the use of technology, be worth the loss of the strange sense of beauty that comes from this frailty? This, however, brings up another question entirely: what does it mean to be human in the first place? Is it guided more by the shape of the body, or by the shape of the soul?

This is one of the issues that haunt the characters of Inhuman, a science fiction comic by “Icarus”*. And trust me, the characters have plenty to haunt them. There’s Soshika Lypha (or Lyika), whose parents met a gruesome end before the comic even started. There’s Ashido Tsukiyo (or Ash), who lost his siblings in a terrorist attack by his own business partner and medic. There’s Grey, who is plagued by mental illness, memories of past atrocities, and ceaseless Alice in Wonderland references.

And then there’s Icarus himself, who is tormented by a misaimed fandom. Much of the commentary under his comics (when he’s not offering excuses for why his artwork isn’t even better than it already is) rails against the people who misinterpret Lyika’s explicit anti-human racism—which the other characters occasionally condemn—as something honorable that they completely agree with.**

Icarus is also left with the difficulty of explaining that his comic, in spite of rough appearances, is not a furry comic. Apparently sick of people making this mistake on a regular basis, he’s attached a page of explanation to the commentary on the first comic, stating that his comic is meant as a rather violent commentary on how humanity is more than a matter of mere species. The fact that many of the characters have wings, big ears, tails, or fluffy fur is purely incidental.***

I’ll admit that this comic is difficult to read. Some of the violent scenes had my stomach in a clench, many pages use incoherency to reveal subtle details about characters, and while Icarus’ artwork improves greatly over the span of several years, he could still stand to brush up on the spelling of a few common words.**** I admire his willingness to take on such complex subject matter and put together such an intricate plot, but the details get in the way.

Comic Rating: Five limbs, on average, per character.

* It’s either that or “Sebastian T. Awesome.” Somehow “Icarus” seems like the lesser of two evils.
** The difficulty with hating one’s own species is that as long as you continue to breathe, eat processed food, and post on the Internet, you remain part of the problem.
*** Also incidental is Icarus’ link to his gallery on FurAffinity, where he also buys ad space. I can understand a modestly cynical viewpoint in which pageviews are pageviews at any cost, but . . . if you don’t want to be called a prostitute, don’t put on the bustier and high-heeled boots.
**** A reminder for all of my readers: the past tense of “to lead” is spelled L-E-D. The word spelled L-E-A-D and pronounced “lehd” is not a verb. It is a toxic metal.

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