Comical Musings

Tag: humor

Review: Girl Genius

by on Sep.28, 2009, under Review

A bit of good news and a small amount of bad news come hand in hand this week: I’m once again employed part-time, as a writer for a local nonprofit organization. While the opportunity to work and earn a bit of a living is nice, the training this past week took more time than expected . . . so it’s a bit of good luck to have some of my old favorites still available to review.

Among these favorites is Girl Genius, a production by the husband-and-wife team of Phil and Kaja Foglio. Set in a Victorian-era steampunk Europe that’s at once charming and terrifying. Mad scientists rule over the land much like warring nobles, if said nobles had had airships and giant holographic displays. (Check out the alternate image for that one, by the way; it’s a hoot.) The current top of the heap is Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, but he and his son Gilgamesh are minor protagonists. The titular genius is one Agatha Clay, who is hinted (and later proven) to be the heir to the legendary Heterodyne family.

The writing style is spectacularly tongue-in-cheek. The mad scientists are all individually wacky, and the co-stars have their own interesting little quirks. The awkward moments are hilariously well scripted, and even the thick of combat is filled with moments of sheer lunacy. Trying to count the hidden references to other people’s work becomes as much part of the fun as trying to piece together who’s betraying whom (and the plot goes everywhere, let me warn you).

The art is rather often beautiful. Both Foglios are accomplished fantasy artists (Kaja, for example, has at least a handful of Magic cards to her name, and Phil has done a number of other comics as well), and they certainly seem to have fun with their work. I dare you to find a more adorable engineer, a more spectacular caffeine rush, more disturbing use of pictograms. And the blood. Can’t forget the blood. Oh, my heavens, the ichor. Between that and the tendency for the women to wind up less than dressed, it’s apparent that Phil does the artwork.

Be sure to catch the side stories as well; while they tend to hit right when the action’s getting good in the main plot, they’ve got their own entertaining charm.

As you can tell, Girl Genius is a comic that I enjoy nearly without reservation. It’s whimsical, complex, by turns serious and hilarious. And fructivorous.

Comic Rating: Five hours before you even notice you’re archive-binging.

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Review: Familiar Ground

by on Aug.31, 2009, under Review

Over the weekend, I went with my family to see the movie Julie & Julia. It’s an entertaining film, rather humorous, and manages to skip the awkward moments that so many comedy films seem to thrive on ever since Meet the Parents. And it centers around a blogger who rose to fame and a comfortable income, so you can imagine the tiny spark of glee that got set off somewhere in the back of my mind. It’s rather similar to the spark that gets set off in people’s minds when they see comics like Schlock Mercenary, whose creator can now live off of the earnings from his comic alone. So they set up their own webcomic, with dreams of advertisements, a well-stocked Cafepress store, and a PayPal tip jar dancing in their heads. Heck, that’s part of how I wound up making online comics.

So don’t immediately want to condemn Familiar Ground, by Cedric Atizado, for seeming to do the same thing. Sure, the main page has an advertisement at the top, one at the left, one at the bottom, and two on the right. Sure, a lot of his auxiliary pages point out how he’s selling originals of his strips (at an increasing price as they get older, natch). And sure, he’s set up a Zazzle store with exactly one item in it. But money-making doesn’t seem to be Atizado’s main goal; his author page indicates that he’s more interested in telling a story and learning to draw in the process—even if the process seems to be fueled by how much attention the comic garners.

The story is still in its fledgling state. We know that the main characters are a trio of helper animals in a very Dungeons & Dragons-inspired world: two familiars and a paladin mount. The idea of telling an epic story from the sideline characters’ point of view isn’t a new one, but handled well, it can be entertaining. For how new the comic is, though, the characters have already been established in their roles: Coco, a celestial horse who serves as a paladin’s mount, is the self-centered idiot fighter; Toad, a frog and familiar to an ungrateful wizard, is the grumpy straight man; and Lady Sasha, a cat who might be the familiar to a streetwalker, is pensive, clever, and probably evil.

The plot itself is looking like a typical fantasy storyline: a lackluster first adventure gives the setting just enough of a baseline that the world can need saving with just enough of an emotional pull that the reader wants it saved. And where Sandra and Woo pays homage to Calvin and Hobbes, Familiar Ground goes it one better and outright borrows a joke wholesale. Update: Check the comments section on this one. Strange minds think alike, it would seem.

Atizado is, as he’s made clear, still learning how to draw comics, so I won’t ding him too much for the art style being unpredictable. The main characters each seem to be pulled from a different cartooning style, with Coco seeming almost Dilbert-like and Lady Sasha more like a French poster circa 1920, and the difference can be rather jarring. However, with enough practice and repetition, the art style is bound either to improve or to codify into something smoother.

Now, I may have painted Atizado as a “wanna-be” cartoonist. But let me assure you, that’s not a bad thing. Pretty much everyone who isn’t among the first wave is a wanna-be of one sort or another, and a particularly dedicated wanna-be can improve greatly (compare the first-ever Mac Hall comic with Three Panel Soul for a particularly drastic evolution over nine years). Others sort of peter out over the course of time. So which will Familiar Ground be? Time will have to tell.

Comic Rating: Three hidden easter-egg jokes in the alt-text.

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