Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Weekly Wednesday Whatshisface - Review of "Untrue Tales"

Per request, I am reviewing Untrue Tales by Sam Little. I'm just gonna dive right in, maybe cannonball even, and tell you what's good and bad about this comic. But if you want a quickie overview: fantastic realistic art comic with a cinematic approach to telling highly amusing, realist Clerks-style stories of everyday life. Check it out.

The Good:

The art is fantastic. Sam Little can really draw people's faces in a nearly photorealistic way, something you don't see very often in comics, whether online or in dead tree format. The comic gets a lot of meaning across in facial expressions that are intuitively and instantly recognizable, even when they're not expressing your typical happy/sad/angry emotions. Each panel is full of background detail without being "busy". The background detail is for realism, and you don't even necessarily pay attention to it.

The comic's panel layouts have a real-world-paper-comics feel to them, like you're flipping through pages. Sam Little uses a lot of comics techniques that I personally attribute to the classic self-published comic Cerebus: tiny panels between the regular-sized panels that zoom in on facial expressions and other details, lots of narration, characters talking directly to the "camera". A very cinematic approach to comics, an approach that is also well-suited to the content.

That content? It's a realist comic about the "adventures" of Gabe Stein, a character right out of a 90s single men movie, like Clerks or Swingers. Especially Clerks. And like Clerks, a lot of the appeal is catching youth in its honesty and stupidity and, above-all, wisecracking. Unlike Clerks, though, this is a story that's heavy on the realistic dialogue. One of the stories, for instance, "Camel Tongue", is a monologue by a girl who briefly dated Gabe. In an affably conversational manner, she tells about how cute and funny he is, but also how awkward; he's a poor kisser (thus the title "Camel Tongue"), he drinks all the time, and he's completely obsessed with her breasts. And she tells this story with a believable accent and slightly off grammar that really sells her as an ESL foreigner without laying it on too thick.

Okay, I've sidetracked away from content a bit into dialogue, but the dialogue in this comic is seriously great. It's very natural and real and flows well. I could read Untrue Tales' characters talk about But as to the content: funny (sometimes hilarious) tales of youthful attempts at a poor man's derring-do. Good stuff.

Oh, one last good thing: the comic is, as I said, very real-world-paper-comic. It feels like you're flipping through a comic that's been published online, as opposed to a webcomic. I know that's not that uncommon, but it's not what I usually read, so it was pretty refreshing.

The Bad:

The content is very funny and extremely human, but I do wish it was also more meaningful. Not that I don't enjoy a good funny story, but the art here is so fantastic and realistic that I wish the writing tackled tougher topics than the size of a man's package. Maybe that's just me, maybe you want nothing more content-wise than Sam Little is giving you. But with his feel for dialogue, I can't help but wonder what would happen if we got some stories with some drama in them, with some human misery and everyday triumphs. Something that showed us not just what youth is like in its lighter moments, but in all of its moments.

And like all stories that rely a lot on humor, especially sophomoric humor (as some of this certainly is), when it falls flat it really falls flat. Not every story here is a complete hit, and if you're making a joke and it doesn't work, it's not a little bit funny, or kind of funny, it's just a bad joke. Sometimes the story is a little Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back instead of Clerks. But, again, when it's on, it's on.

What's bad about the art? Well, it IS very derivative of Cerebus. The hyper-realistic character portraits, the realistic background art, and especially the panel layouts is straight from Cerebus. He does it well, and you could certainly call it an homage rather than a rip-off, but he doesn't stray from the artistic formula he's got. Granted, it's a really good formula that suits itself well to his content, so I really shouldn't complain, should I? And that's really all I could find negative about the art. Which is, overall, fantastic.

About the only other bad thing I could say about this comic is the flipside of it having that real-paper-comic feel to it. The web site is very well designed for flipping through a paper comic online, but is not very webby. The home page lists the stories (relatively stand-alone "issues" basically), but doesn't tell you which one was first, or provide an easy link to the beginning. You can't RSS the comic to find out when it's updating (which is once a week, another knock against it in the world of webcomics).

Final Thoughts And Overall Thinkingicityness:

Untrue Tales is a really impressive, professional comic with realistic art and dialogue. It's funny and has excellent (if not deep) characterization. Mostly I just wish there was more of it, as we only get a page a week. This comic really should get more attention then it does: if it did, maybe Sam Little could afford to devote more time to it. I recommend it, and my word is like gold in this town. So check it out.


Sam Little said...

Wow! Thanks for the great in-depth review man. Very much appreciated. Oddly enough, I've never read CEREBUS. I guess now I'll have to check it out.

Deeper meaning is on the menu, by the way. I have a grand plan.

Oh, and I'm going back to twice weekly updates for the next installment. Just needed a bit of breathing space.

Thanks again! I'm off to find out how that RSS thing works...

Robert Berry said...

great review! We probably should mention that archived installments of UNTRUE TALES (along with some of Sam's other work) can be found at AmalgamatedArtists