Wednesday, June 27, 2007


These reviews aren't always going to have the best timing. I managed to hit There's Always Porn during a guest week, and I'm hitting Ardra during an entire guest month. This poses a bit of a challenge. Add to that the somewhat verified rumor that Ardra is in for some sort of change on the horizon, and I nearly cancelled the review. Cancelling would be the easy way out though, and what kind of fun is easy? Wait... don't answer that.

I'm quite amused by the basic premise of the comic. An atypical female scientist decides to embark on the greatest experiment of her life - truly logical parenting. The children display a few genetically engineered quirks - both Eileen and Lenore share their maternal provider's unusually high IQ, and Lenore has a dash of telekinesis thrown in just for kicks - but the writer manages to use these qualities as personality traits rather than as gimmicks.

Unfortunately, the comic's life has been somewhat tumultuous having changed artists more than once. Early comics were drawn by Ardra's writer, Jason Dunstan. Fans of the webcomic Least I Could Do may recognize the work of original artist Trevor Adams in later strips. Finally, Fesworks of the webcomic P.S.I. has taken over the artist's helm and he doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon. Jason has stuck through it all, though, even squeezing a number of guest comics from other creators to fill in the gaps between regular artists. That's a tenacity rarely found here on the web, where comics frequently come and go before they're even noticed.

Aside from all else, the humor is consistent. Intelligent without being pretentious, there's a good natured ring to even Eileen's pessimistic sarcasm. The harsher pokings are reserved for popular culture rather than specific individuals keeping the "family" focused as a tight knit unit without fostering animosity. Sarcasm is a subtle game, and Jason definitely has the knack.

The current artwork is a nice blend of Feswork's style and the already established character designs. The line work is smooth and sufficiently detailed to support the block coloring. The backgrounds consist mostly of layered color that seems to exist behind the actual frames, continuing it's patterns beyond the scope of a single panel. While this technique could be distracting, the tones used keep the colors from drawing your eyes away from the characters, which clearly deserve center stage.

Despite some bumps, Ardra seems to have hit a stride. With any luck, future bumps won't knock it off the road.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


He's small. He's furry. He's orange.

Nope, wrong character. I'm talking about Sidgwick a character that, unlike that cat, rings with sarcastic political humor. He's a dry rub of current events presented as the creator's conversations with his imaginary friend.

Right off the bat I'm tempted to say that this comic won't amuse everyone. It is current event based, and often deals with American politics. I do believe there is enough popular content that the comic could appeal to readers from other countries, but a good deal of the content deals with news that didn't hit the evening networks. As such, people with little regard for those rather interesting political items that so tickle me may not see the point.

Aside from being intelligent and culturally relevant, Sidgwick is a comic I also find consistently funny. The humor is dry, not dark, mostly sarcastic but occasionally entering into the realm of sardonic. Falwell and Limbaugh fans should probably steer clear unless they're looking for something to bitch about, but there are a few gentle jabs aimed at the liberal crowd as well.

The artwork is cartoonish, as one would expect, but not amateurish. The expressions are endearing and clearly read, and the settings and perspective have a naturally casual feel. I appreciate the differentiation between the creator's voice and his creation within the comic - the creator's bubbles differ in both shape and shade, leaving a clear impression of origin.

The comic is currently hosted on MySpace, and while it's a passable solution because of it's timely nature, I would pretty much prefer that every comic hosted on MySpace found a more appropriate home. Assuming you have your own MySpace, subscribing to the blog would insure that you didn't miss any updates. Those of you without MySpace pages can either sign up for the RSS feed, or just check in every now and again. Regardless of how you get there, it's worth it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wapsi Square

Today's comic is populated primarily by women, yet is written and drawn by a man.

Yes. I am aware of the images that conjures.

I did not, however, say that today's comic is populated primarily by dolls. These are women. They have real breasts - you know, the kind that come in different shapes and sizes - and they have the hips that go along with them. They have issues, yes, but they also have the intelligence and guts to tackle them - no matter how fantastical and frightening. They have flaws, sometimes even dark secrets, but their personalities shine though with strength of character - crystal clear and honest.

So before I get into the review of Wapsi Square, let me say this: Kudos to you, Paul Taylor. You've created characters that that feel like people, not fantasies. I'm proud to share this one with my daughter.

Wapsi Square is one of those rare comics that has it all. Brilliantly molded characters, strong story lines, steady pacing, and professional artwork. All that, and the creator manages to update five days a week, produce a steady stream of images for sale, maintain an online journal, appear at conventions, and help his wife raise their son.

Busy guy.

Taking place in a fictitious neighborhood in Minneapolis, Wapsi Square follows the life and times of Monica Villarreal - an anthropologist with a rather vivid connection to Aztec mythology. Beginning in September of 2001, Wapsi Square originally felt like a 3-4 panel punch-a-day type comic. Those early days, however, were actually the foundation for an incredibly engaging story. Rather than diving in to a complicated plot line, the author allows the reader to get to know the characters much as we get to know the people in our lives. People engage in small talk before they reveal their inner thoughts, and the plot evolves much like a personal relationship. By 2004 the small talk is over, and a dark intimacy takes its place. The writing never feels contrived or rushed, and though some might find the pacing a tad slow, I feel it contributes to the comic's realistic nature. Yes, this is a fantasy comic, but the characters are taken aback by the supernatural in their lives. This isn't a world where metaphorical unicorns are expected, but rather a world where, once confronted with them, the inhabitants are forced to accept, live with, and even attempt to control them. It's easy for me to find myself in these characters, not necessarily relating to one in particular, but instead recognizing bits of myself in their reflections. The intensity of emotion the author is able to elicit is testimony to that reflective nature. It's very easy to imagine myself in their shoes, and while I don't always like what I see of myself, I always enjoy the journey.

The artwork is simple and skillful, black outlines with hatch mark shading and sketchy detailing. The backgrounds are given a grey wash, allowing the characters to remain rightfully center stage at all times. Each character design is a clear match to it's personality, giving one the feeling that their physicality helped in molding their person; and let's be honest - that's more reality than fiction. My early teens were filled with groundless rumors of eating disorders due to an unusually high metabolism, the way people viewed me had an effect on the person I became. I'm sure tall/overweight/short/busty/etc kids were partially molded in the same way, and Paul's character designs flesh out that truth.

Masterful story telling and crisp artistry have made Wapsi Square one of my favorites. Don't take this one lightly - start at the beginning and work your way through as you would a novel. Once you're caught up, read it every weekday. Then, as each story line wraps up, go back to it's beginning and read it as a whole. The impact each strip makes on a daily basis is multiplied when reading them in blocks. I will own the compilations, and they will take their place on my nightstand to be read over and over again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

School Spirit

I don't know a damned thing about cricket, and for the first time in my life, I'm actually sorry that I don't.

Don't worry, an understanding of the finer points of cricket is hardly a requirement for enjoying School Spirit, though it might help on occasion. For once, this review will not contain any warnings to younger readers. School Spirit is wholesome goodness for all. There is still a content warning, however - this comic contains Aussie speak. Not enough to throw most readers, though, just enough to add personality and charm to some truly endearing characters. Refreshingly, I find that charm to come from an easy balance between artistic style and writing - with neither competing for attention over the other.

Beginning with young Casper's first day at a new school, the reader is invited to join him and his new friends in nothing less than childhood. A bit on the spirit filled side from what I remember of my childhood, but the feel is familiar regardless. The writing is laid back and unassuming, in both narration and speech, bringing about a feeling of casual enjoyment. More a summer picnic than a roller coaster ride, and rightfully so. While technically story based, a number of the strips read like illustrated children's jokes and riddles. In other comics I've found such a format jarring, but placed in the context of a grammar school and constrained to speech the format works perfectly - adding to the good-natured, child-like feel the creator so eloquently maintains. Regularly placed recapitulations allow new readers to catch up without pouring through three years worth of archives. You'll also find a few history lessons sprinkled around the plot line, likely to enlighten the yanks more than the Aussies, but worth the read regardless.

The artwork is equally charming, with cleanly stylized characters and consistent backgrounds. Deftly avoiding the pitfalls of overly cute or tiny-but-adult child characters, the creator maintains a cartoonish feel without rounding the bend to wacky. I especially enjoy his use of silhouette and the occasional placement of what appear to be slightly altered photographs or paintings. Most of the strips are done in a three to four panel format, and in full color, though some are double that with the longer comics typically breaking slightly from the story line.

Navigation is simple, clean, and keeps to the theme of the comic quite nicely. The only thing I might add would be navigation at the top of the comic for those times when a quick turn through are called for; though the calendar navigation below the comic in addition to a complete archive does help in that regard. Other features include a a very interesting history page, a cast page, and a forum in which one may even ask the individual characters questions. (The art page, though included in the main menu, doesn't seem to lead anywhere currently.)

Updating dutifully three times a week - Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday - School Spirit is a playful romp well worth a try... and with hints of ghostly pasts on the horizon, this would be an excellent time to dive in.