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.