Comical Musings

Tag: positive

Review: Hark! A Vagrant

by on Jul.27, 2009, under Review

One of the marvels of webcomics is that you can find a comic to suit your tastes, almost no matter what your tastes might be. Certainly the results are skewed toward video game wackiness, college wackiness, furry wackiness, and postmodern pretensions disguised as wackiness, but a variety of other comics will show up to cater to whatever interests might randomly come up. As an example of this, I present Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, a comic that’s mostly about history, literature, and other things that people study in college without hoping to do anything with them.

I first found out about Kate Beaton via The Comics Curmudgeon, which linked to a parody she’d done of For Better or For Worse and how the characters were being railroaded into a happy ending. I can’t for the life of me find this comic anymore (and I don’t know if that’s because of any C&D from Lynn Johnston or simply because Beaton doesn’t use terribly intuitive titles for her comics), but it caught my attention enough that I’d go back and read her other comics occasionally. And since then, she’s picked up her own website and put the comics in a more navigable format, which is always a plus.

The art style varies between something resembling FBorFW and something vaguely 70s-ish, for lack of a better way of putting it. By the looks of it, Beaton pretty much freehands the entire comic, giving it a very light feel. Naturally, the rules of anatomy take a backseat to the joke. That’s not such a bad thing in this case, since the people are still recognizable as people.

Her hand-lettering is also legible, which I can tell you is no easy task–though I’m often left scratching my head and wondering where all the periods went. This is a stylistic choice that gets at me because of the whole editing minor thing. It shows up in Garfield, presumably as a way to show that the main character’s just too lazy for end punctuation, but it also shows up in AWKWARD ZOMBIE as shorthand for a character being particularly angry or ignorant. Of course, given the way Beaton depicts some of the historical figures, this just might be intentional.

The writing in the comic is as idiosyncratic as the art. The premise is generally to take historical and literary figures and humanize them by having them speak and act like modern people. Sometimes the result is hilarious, and other times the joke sorta falls flat. Be warned: with the blinders off, you get a lot of bawdy jokes and salty language from people you really don’t expect it from. This isn’t the most work-safe of comics.

The other side-effect of a comic based on random historical figures is that you’ll have to spend a good chunk of time on Wikipedia figuring out who the heck these people are. She also references Canadian politics a lot, but hey–she lives in Canada. She knows what she’s joking about . . . but because the comments section under each comic only gives the comment on the most recent one, her pearls of wisdom are sadly lost.

To add to the randomness, Kate’s younger self occasionally shows up, as does a Shetland pony. And there’s a stretch of some forty comics done in MSPaint for no apparent reason.

So there are things that could be improved code-wise, and perhaps Beaton could stand to focus on either the history jokes or the other random gags, but in all, Hark! A Vagrant is an enjoyable read that never stops finding a left field to come out of.

Comic Rating: Six happy wanderers.

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by on Jun.01, 2009, under Review

Gamer comics are, generally, considered among the lowest of the low in the webcomic world, along with (at last count) college roommate comics, bizarre fantasy comics, comics that try to push a social message about alternative lifestyles, furry comics, anything to do with politics, drunken lout comics, and generally anything else that gets published on the Internet. People who review or talk about webcomics often point to Penny Arcade as the end-all, be-all of gaming comics and attempt to shut down any conversation about a new gaming comic. While I agree that maybe we could stand to stanch the flow of recolored Sonic and Mario sprites, I also think that credit should be given where credit is due.

And I think credit is due in the case of AWKWARD ZOMBIE by Kate Tiedrich. To start with, she draws the characters herself instead of ripping and recoloring sprites, which earns her a lot of points right there. It’s also interesting to see her art style progress over the course of her art gallery, starting with a rather odd cross of anime and Precious Moments styles, then progressing to a much more individualistic style. It’s always nice to see an artist who can be recognized when compared to others; I’m generally guilty of falling back on something that looks like anime when I’m pressed for time, and I admire people who can push themselves to go for a bit more.

As for plot . . . you can see that it’s pretty obviously a Nintendo fan-comic of sorts, mostly centering on the Super Smash Bros. series and the presumed interactions between the franchise characters (along with Pokemon, The Legend of Zelda, and World of Warcraft [in a slight break from the Nintendo things]). The comics on the site itself start with Tiedrich’s transition to doing comics in Flash instead of on oekaki programs, giving her the ability to do larger, longer comics and use smoother lines; right off the nailed bat, we’re treated to her characterizations of Roy as a somewhat attention-deficit wacko, Link as a clueless tag-along, and Marth as an imperious and somewhat effeminate fop. This is something of a thread in her Smash-related comics; she generally avoids the more notable characters (like, say, Mario) in favor of inventing her own personalities for the lesser-knowns. It’s a clever way to do fan works without being scrutinized over whether you’re properly matching canon.

One of Tiedrich’s quirks is to throw silly faces onto background objects and make enemy monsters look deranged, which I’m not above admitting gives me the giggles every time. And while her backgrounds are generally lacking, she makes up for it by getting the characters more detail than most people can handle.

It’s also refreshing to see an author avatar character who isn’t stunningly attractive, all-powerful, or generally just more awesome than everyone else. Tiedrich portrays herself as a scrawny, pale young woman with thick, uncontrollable hair, dark circles under her eyes, and what I can only hope are freckles and not some sort of polyp. Actually, she kinda creeps me out a little now and then.

And one last comment: I like her tendency more toward the “show, don’t tell” style. Some of her best comics use no words at all, other than the title. Sure, there’s commentary on the bottom for people who don’t get the strip at first gloss, but she can generally get the joke across without too much effort. And when she does wax verbose, it’s generally for comedic effect by making the long-winded character look like a babbler. Not to mention she really rocks the long, awkward silences.

I know a lot of webcomics rely heavily on wacky, random humor for their punchlines. And usually it’s what really turns me off to them (such as, say, White Ninja Comics or Castle Arfenhouse). But AWKWARD ZOMBIE manages to channel the wackiness into something pretty deft, and I give Tiedrich kudos for that. I recommend it to any Nintendo fan without a chip on the shoulder.

Comic Rating: Four Wii-motes, all pointing at Marth.

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