Trodamus

Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

Wapsi Square: Half Good, Half Bad (In That Order)

In Webcomics on December 4, 2007 at 5:52 am

 I am convinced, now more than ever, that the true desire of every author is to shoehorn themselves into the “Science-Fiction/Fantasy” genre. One need look no further than the very pages of the various webcomics on the internet to see support for this, as it seems every webcomic, regardless of heading, eventually heads down the dark misty road to becoming “speculative fiction.” That is, if they weren’t already there from their outset.

To say this boggles the mind would be a vast overstatement of things, not the least of which would be my mind (it doesn’t boggle easily). Most webcomic writers take to heart the old adage, “write what you know,” with the very premise of their webcomic being little more than an idealization of the situation they currently see around them in real life. Friends make up the cast, personal interests the plot, in-jokes the punchlines, that sort of thing. It’s therefore not inconceivable to see why most webcomics take off for deep space as soon as the flimsy plot allows for a flimsy excuse to do so: poor writers, faced with the indomitable juxtaposition of the boredom in their real and fictional lives, immediately set forth to liven things up by the crudest methods of base fantasy realization possible.

Much of the above does not apply to Paul Taylor’s Wapsi Square. That is to say, Wapsi Square is not deludingly self-referential in regard to the author’s own life: the characters, while based in part on real-life acquaintances are actual creations of the author, and their professions and interests differ moderately from each other in contrast to the friends-of-a-hobby frame of other comics; the eponymous setting is entirely fictional, based only in name on the Wapsipinicon River; and each of the characters intersects with each other only as their life, motivations, and schedule dictates, rather than just hanging out at the same house all day, every day.

The above is a gross glossing over of the many, many good qualities of Wapsi Square, showing only that, in its inception and premise, it is not as derivative or cliched as other comics. Because I’m about to go into detail about the series’ progressively worsening characteristics, I feel obligated to point out how much the author has done correctly. I would be remiss not to mention the nuanced character portrayal, with each character possessing of many traits that serve to distinguish each member of the cast from the rest. Never should a Wapsi reader mistake Shelly for Tina, due to the both literal and figurative deft hand Mr. Taylor employs in deploying each and every figure in the strip.

 With all of this vast and great potential for deep and meaningful character interaction, one must wonder why it is that each progressive story arc carries the strip further into a sort of surrealistic state, with each character possessing some dark, eldritch past that not only involves suicide – a fair topic, to be sure – but living manifestations of their own personal demons, ancient gods and avatars toying with the lives of mortals and a centuries old conspiracy involving the sacrifice of three young women to forge a being of unimaginable power and evil. It was alright when it was just Tepoztecal; tiny, comical gods of liquor that occasionally bestow instant drunkenness is good comic relief in my book, and Mr. Taylor occasionally employed him as a sounding board for Monica to vocalize the errant personal issue every now and again. But, lately, every character is steeped in their own Lovecraftian / Jungian / Aztecan chowderhouse of lore. Every character. The barista is some sort of amalgamate of a former human woman’s personal demons, now given form to…chase the American dream! Or something.

 Before this trend had started, the comic had its faults that are largely overshadowed or nonpresent in lieu of this larger theme. Stemming from, perhaps, too many compliments at how strong and likable each of his female characters are (very specific present tense there), Mr. Taylor began a few story arcs that seemed, to me, to be nothing more than a stage to show off this vaunted talent of his. We meet rail-thin allegedly anorexic models, only to find that they have a very healthy appetite and are only blessed with a phenomenal metabolism. Amanda is hired to do a photo shoot for a calendar of female fire fighters, readily assuming it to be a spread of silicon-enhanced bimbos with the appropriate props. Surprise! The female fire fighters are, in fact, female, and they kick ass to boot! Take that, premade assumptions regarding the capacity for female awesomeness!

What is the purpose of stories like these? While they are decently well-written, I feel as though I’m being preach at for something I already know, or in punishment for thinking in a way I do not. As a reader, I am already well-associated with each character possessing a cavalcade of seemingly contradictory traits and how they deal with the expectations of others not aligning with the person they actually are. I really did get that, on page one, where Monica is a half-Mexican, huge-breasted anthropologist-museum-curator-and-exhibit-coordinator. Shelly is a well-muscled, quick-to-temper-but-surprisingly-compassionate mechanic and car nut. Lakshmi is a very large girl who only wants to be cuddled by all of the (smaller) men around her. I don’t need half-formed special guest stars showing up just to nail this point home!

 This has gone further to the author’s head, as he’s set up some kind of “Wapsi Girl” project, where, I don’t know, nonstandard, upstanding, strong, caring, compassionate women can all list their names and webpages like some kind of memorial to common sense. I guess this sort of behavior is OK, and it’s not unusual for a webcomic (typically a special interest comic) to have an auxiliary support community associated with it…but as someone who’s more interested in the comic, that big new button just annoys me.

Of course, maybe I’m not just there for the comic. I do enjoy picking apart the authors every now and again, and will eagerly use “douche bag author” as a valid excuse to never have to read a comic again. All the same, I just dislike it when someone begins to get full of themselves in a manner.