Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Tuna Carpaccio P.I.

Tuna Carpaccio is many things. First, it is a dish made by thinly slicing fresh raw tuna and serving it with a savory and often spicy sauce. Second, it is a webcomic by Josh Dunlap and Tony Chavira. Third, it is the main character of said webcomic.

It may be still other things. I'll let you know if I discover any more.

Albacore Melt Carpaccio, better known as "Tuna," is a private investigator in a city of crime and mayhem. He's hard-headed, hard-hitting, and hardly competent. Even his secretary Pamela is more skilled at detective work than he is.

Tuna, however, is entirely oblivious to his own incompetence. He cracks cases with fisticuffs and copious property damage. He fancies himself on par with the city's Police Detective, Aurora Malta, even though his investigations (and I'm being generous with the term) constantly interfere with hers. Despite her low opinion of him (which she makes clear in no uncertain terms), he relentlessly hits on her. Tuna believes he is the sharpest detective in the shed--and he ignores all evidence to the contrary.

Carpaccio's primary adversary is the elusive mob boss Jose Maria De Jesus, but the road to the Hispanic crime lord is strewn with recurring "theme villains" in the vein of Dick Tracy or Batman. These include psychological psycho Ink Blot, zombie hipster Dead Beat, the bowling monarch King Pin (my personal favorite), and the Christmas criminal Coal Miner, whose slugfest with Carpaccio stretches out in a ridiculous infinite-canvas showdown that is sure to give the creators headaches when they're putting together a print collection. In these side excursions from the hunt for De Jesus, the comic both satirizes and revels in the bad-puns-and-punchouts villain-of-the-week style, but in a recent surprise move, all these crooks Carpaccio's put behind bars turn out to be relevant to the plot. It's one of many nice touches that make the comic such a kick to read.

Another is the art. Josh Dunlap's style is evocative of film noir, with a little animated-cartoon thrown in for flavor. It's got an inky look to it, with gritty backgrounds, sharply-rendered characters, and loose linework splashed with black shading. Fight scenes are rowdy, cacophonous affairs, the comic keeps things dynamic right down to the panel layouts, and characters have signature fonts for their dialogue. In less-competent hands, this would be a cheap gimmick, but from Pam's longsuffering all-lowercase lines to King Pin's regal script, it's a nice touch and an important part of the comic characterization. In short, Tuna Carpaccio looks good.

But don't let him know I said that. It'd go straight to his head.

Tuna, oblivious as he is to his own incompetence, can't help but remind me of Michael Scott, the bungling boss from The Office--which brings me to my only major criticism of the comic. Both Tuna and Michael have no idea how truly unproficient they are, and they make us laugh even as we cringe at their ridiculously unprofessional behavior. With Michael, however, you actually feel sorry for him: you get the sense that he actually cares about people, and his only real vice is that he cares more about getting people to like him. Tuna, on the other hand, more often you just shake your head and mutter, "I cannot believe this guy."

At this point in the story, to be perfectly honest, Tuna is a serious cad, and I'd be hard-pressed to name a redeeming feature beyond his right hook. He's persistent, I'll give him that much. But that's not much to hang your hat on when you're persistently bad. In essence, what I'm saying is that even though the art is great, the characters are funny, and the plotline packs more twists and turns than a retro dance move, it really loses some potential when you strain to sympathize with the main character.

Still, Tuna Carpaccio is well worth your time to check out, and it's going to be well worth my time to follow in the future. It's a comedy comic with a quirky sense of humor (I can guarantee you've never seen a comic with as bizarre a beginning as this), and it's very slickly executed. For all his vices, Tuna is hilarious and his misadventures are entertaining.

Tuna Carpaccio is a quality comic. See if it's your style--give it a read.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Brief Intro to Tuna Carpaccio, P.I.

Slated for review tomorrow is Tuna Carpaccio P.I., but before I deliver the review, I wanted to make a few opening remarks. When I first heard the title, I imagined a four-panel gag strip starring an anthropomorphic fish detective--a sort of film noir Sherman's Lagoon. Tuna Carpaccio, however, is no such thing.

There aren't any anthropomorphic ocean-dwellers, for starters. The entire cast is human (or, in the case of a few weird villains and one supporting-cast bartender, more or less human). Second, the format: it's a long-form-comic detective-adventure comedy with a slightly gritty veneer. And while I went in with a few reservations, I must admit that many of my expectations were either exceeded or subverted.

Don't judge this book by its cover. Tuna's got more than a few surprises up its sleeve. Tune in tomorrow for the full review.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's Interview Friday, Everybody

Happy Friday, homepeople. So it's Friday, and you read a bunch of webcomics over your morning coffee before starting in on your work. And you're entering data into the database, or you're laying out a PDF, or you're analyzing the inventory report, and you're all, "Man, I wish I could somehow listen to something webcomics-related while performing these mindless tasks!" Because you are way too into webcomics.

Well, you're in luck: I have some links to feed your unhealthy obsession. Andrew McDonald of A.P.N.G. Enterprises shared with me two interviews he conducted, in which he and his interviewees talk about professional webcomicking and how the industry relates to other comic industries, as well as his guests' own webcomics. That makes it sound like very serious business, but it's also a lot of fun. Interviewed are:

Load 'em up and listen to 'em in the background as you accomplish today's menial tasks. I'm not even too familiar with Paul Taylor's work, and he's still interesting to listen to.

So, that business should tide you over until Monday's review of Tuna Carpaccio, P.I.. But I'd also like to say that after several updates, Miles Grover's new comic Creep House is off to an excellent start. Miles' fresh spin on archetypal horror and fantasy characters is producing some quality comedy. I especially dig the writing on this strip--a party vith hella chicks, indeed!

Party hardy this weekend, you guys, and I'll see you right back here on Monday.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Superfogeys, Chapters 4-6

Tone is tricky business.

The usual route is to give your work a single, general consistent tone. This adds an additional level of cohesion and consistency to the work, and you can easily see it in film. Pay close attention to the next movie you see, and it'll quickly become clear what sort of reaction it's trying to evoke from you, regardless of how well it succeeds. Many webcomics take the single-tone approach too, from newspaper-style daily doses of humor (Sheldon, The Book of Biff) or ongoing character-driven plot threads (Multiplex, Girl Genius).

However, life doesn't always stick to a single mood, so why should art? Some creative works try to capture a broader spectrum of human emotion. The phenomenon is especially common in anime. There's a risk involved in such an approach, and's article on Mood Whiplash notes: "Done well, the contrast in moods can make each emotion all the more poignant and effective. Done poorly, the contrast can jar the reader/viewer right out of the story."

In reading chapters four through six of The Superfogeys, I realized that this full spectrum of tone is exactly what Brock Heasley is going for.

A lot happens in these three chapters--more than can be treated in detail in a single review. It also contains several important reveals and reversals that I won't spoil. Suffice it to say that The Third Man has assembled a powder keg of personalities at the superhero retirement home Valhalla. By gathering pint-sized villain Dictator Tot, senile superheroine Star Maiden, and super-anti-hero Tangerine among the current denizens of Valhalla, he can turn incident to injury, casual encounter to casualty, with very precise results.

I'm reminded of the quotation from Fight Club: "All a gun does is focus an explosion in one direction." And yes, someone does get shot here, and yes, someone dies. It's sudden, it's jarring, and it reminded me of a moment from a few years ago when I was playing baseball with some of my extended family. One moment we were all laughing and having fun, and the next moment my uncle's thumb was bent at a wrong angle. I didn't know how to feel; I couldn't believe what had happened. The death in chapter 5 left me with a similarly bizarre feeling.

But what exactly is the Third Man aiming at? Despite sparingly-given hints, his reasons have yet to be revealed. A lot hinges on the believability of his motivations, but that's a task for future chapters.

Chapter Six contains another of Captain Spectacular's reminiscences: his and Dr. Rocket's origin story. Overall, it's one of the more effective blendings of tone in the Superfogeys. Its jokes are generally humorous, its drama develops the characters of the Captain and the Doctor, and in particular it gives Dr. Rocket some very human motivations for his life of villainy. The story is also notable for its non-intrusive but interesting inclusion of religious elements. In short, it works.

Unfortunately, not all such multi-toned scenes are as successful. Captain Spectacular's marriage proposal to Spy Girl is treated with such casualness and humor that I found her acceptance hard to believe. In my opinion, without any ceremony or romance to it (not even a ring!), by all rights the Captain's proposal should have fallen flat on its face. On occasion, a strip ends in a punchline where a dramatic "punch" would have been more effective. Some moments are so surreal that I have trouble classifying their tone entirely. The musical number by the Healer and Captain Emo is an out-and-out dud, and I can't help but feel embarrassed for them.

These chapters of Superfogeys have some decidedly hilarious moments, though. A cameo of Clovis the Bear from Imagine This yields one extremely funny strip, plus a handful of additional jokes. Dr. Rocket's litany of crimes in this strip (spoiler watch active!) escalates the humor all the way to the knockout punchline, and this extracanonical comic makes an excellent and humorous introduction to Superfogeys as a whole.

I really can't say anything bad about the artwork. It's not the best in the business, but the linework is efficient, panel layouts are diverse and effective, and overall the art exhibits notable consistency. Many webcomics have artwork that is all over the board in terms of quality. In every strip, though, Brock Heasley exhibits a level of competence that, while not especially flashy, does the job, and does it well.

Brock Heasley is at the top of his game when he is presenting the lives of his elderly superheroes just as they are. It's most noticeable with Swifty, but his cantankerous cynicism is just one reaction to old age. Consider this strip where Captain Spectacular flashes back to his first meeting with Dr. Klein. There's a joke, but the humor underscores the reality that the Captain and the world have parted ways. He's in a dark place--literally.

On the whole, I feel like I can recommend Superfogeys as a quality comic at this point. I've read a good deal of it, and while the humor is about three parts hit and one part miss, there's more than just humor to its appeal. It has suspense, an engaging ongoing plotline, and a well-developed cast of unusual individuals. Plus, where else can you find a comic that takes the concept of elderly superheroes and doesn't stop at just playing it for laughs?

If you haven't already, give Superfogeys a look. Early chapters were shaky, but I've found it to be worth sticking with.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Further Poll Results

And Tuna Carpaccio, P.I. has been slated for review. I'm looking forward to giving it a thoroughly thorough read-down!

Thanks for the votes, y'all, and applause to the Eben07 crew for declining their spot in the runnings. A truly noble gesture, and worthy of note.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Review: Polkout

(Guest review by Ari Collins)

Polkout is a webcomic with the hyperbole and dirty jokes of Penny Arcade, only without the video games and not as funny. But hey, who is as funny as PA? Not many, I tell you, sir! This is still quite the kneeslapper comic. If you like your humor intentionally and ridiculously offensive, Polkout is the comic for you.

Only occasionally does Polkout have anything particularly substantive to say in its comics section. If Polkout were a person (and perhaps it is, from reading the blog entries), it would be the drunk guy at your party who is never at a loss for a dirty joke or an insulting but funny quip. Not the smartest or cleverest guy at the party, but really funny nonetheless in a knowingly obnoxious way.

My favorite moments in the webcomic, actually, are when the main character insults someone by accident instead of on his usual purposeful insults, and wants to take it back. Then, inevitably, he ends up digging himself a deeper hole. (If you've ever watched the show Coupling, imagine the main character here is Jeffrey. Same idea.) Some examples are here and there.

So that basically sums up the comic. I rather like it, but I'm a fan of this kind of humor, and the only real negative about Polkout the comic is that if you don't like the humor, there's not much else there for you.

But there's actually more to Polkout than the comic. See, the writer of Polkout also keeps a blog, both as a newspost under his comic and as a separate blog. In his writing (yes, without pictures), the Polkster covers a wide range of topics in a freeflowing and engaging way. Same as the comic, he's dirty and offensive, but in his writing you get the full range of what he wants to say without the space limitations of a comic. It's like the webcomics are just excerpts from the blog. And with that added space to dance around in, the Polkster can let us get to know the guy who writes the comic, which casts a new light on the comic itself. The blog, and the posts under the comic, come highly, highly recommended.

Overall, I give Polkout an eight and a half on my scale of one to ten that I have never used before and may never use again. So if you need a frame of reference: this isn't the genius of a Penny Arcade, Dinosaur Comics, or xkcd, but it's right there in the second tier. Shits and giggles, man. Shits. And. Giggles.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Poll Results: You Guys Like Superfogeys

The masses have spoken! Thanks to Brock Heasley's inundation of the polls with his many readers, Superfogeys has carried the day and earned itself yet another review. To be entirely fair, I have mixed feelings about how fair such tactics are. On the one hand, I hold these polls in order to let you, my readers, choose the comics you want to see reviewed, not complete strangers who only came here because a cartoonist asked them to. On the other hand, those who voted may well come back to check out the review, since if they cared enough to vote for their favorite comic, they may also be interested in what people are saying about it.

On the third hand, I love traffic. So, cartoonists, send me your voters. Let's get a new poll going on here, with the following options up for grabs:

On a note only related insofar as it is about comics: long before I got into webcomics, long before there was even a web of note to put comics on, I read comic books. Specifically, I read Valiant's Nintendo Comics System titles. In second grade, I spent many an afternoon enjoying the selection at my local comic shop, reading the adventures of Captain N, Link, and the Super Mario Brothers, and I, like Chris Flick, have many fond comic-book shop memories.

Sadly, I found the following in my basement just recently:

Just look at that mildew! My childhood dreams are covered in nasty grossness.

What were your first comic experiences? What are some of your favorite comic-reading memories? Drop a little nostalgia my way, because all my nostalgia is moist and wrinkly.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Review: Capes 'N' Babes

Capes 'n' Babes is a strip about a strip mall--specifically, a comic book store in a strip mall. It's a black-and-white strip with occasional color, updated three times a week (MWF), drawn by professional graphic artist Chris Flick.

The webcomic centers around Marc, the manager of the titular comics store, Capes 'n' Babes. The store's owner is frequently absent (a fact lampshaded blatantly in more than one comic), so it often falls to Marc to tend to business. An early storyline introduces Joey, the "girl next door" who runs a hardware store and helps Marc build a studio for the comic shop's video podcast. Joey makes frequent subsequent appearances, as do recurring gags in which Marc interviews comic-book superheroes and characters on his podcast show. Throw in Roy, Marc's lecherous werewolf friend with dreams of becoming a comic-book artist, and the strip is ready to roll.

(A word of disclaimer before continuing: Roy's lecherousness and the language in general set the dialogue content at a PG-13 level. Early strips especially play up Roy's werewolf horniness, which readers such as myself may find off-putting and not terribly funny. Your mileage, as they say over at, may vary, so read with discretion.)

Creator Chris Flick greatly enjoys comics of all stripes, and it shows. The strip is filled with references to and parodies of superhero comics, webcomics, general sci-fi, and the fact that Capes 'n' Babes itself is a comic: goodbye, Fourth Wall. In fact, some of its best moments occur when it's poking self-deprecating fun at itself. Gags take aim not just at superheroes and comics, but at comic creators, and a recurring joke involves the appearance of H.R. Giger's "xenomorph" alien from the movie series of the same name. Some Alien strips are more successful than others.

Which brings us to a major criticism of Capes 'n' Babes: the humor. Gags all too frequently fall flat from overwriting or poor comic timing. Consider this strip poking fun at The Ghost Whisperer and another about Sonic's drive-thru burger ads. Both strips try to pack too much dialogue into the last panel, none of it especially amusing. Another strip, in which The Thing of Fantastic Four fame strikes out at a paper-rock-scissors tournament, has potential, but the joke is hampered by needless repetition and an overwritten punchline that hits the reader over the head. A visual, reveal-based punchline, with Grimm and his juvenile nemesis underneath the contest banner, would have sufficed.

Nonetheless, Capes 'n' Babes does have its humorous moments. A few strips, with bizarre out-of-left-field punchlines that leave you asking "Where did that come from?", elicited genuine laughs from me. If you enjoy a good pun--or a good joke about puns--the Capes archives have a few pun-liners for you. (Cue groans.)

So if you do tune in to Capes 'n' Babes, it likely won't be primarily for the humor, which lacks the polish of strips like Sheldon or Sinfest. However, the webcomic does have two things going for it that bear mention.

First of all, it's a strip for comic fans by a comic fan, and the sincerity shows. Creative works can run the risk of getting too self-referential and self-indulgent: whether a novel about a writer, a movie about a producer, or a strip about a cartoonist. Flick neatly averts that with his comics-shop-manager protagonist. Marc's job, as a guy trying to make a living off something he personally cares about, allows him to observe the industry with a bit of healthy distance. And Marc is as human as the next guy--his perspective is by no means immune to blind spots.

Marc is a likable guy--friendly, reasonably hard-working, and a bit of a marshmallow, though not without his sarcastic side. It's easy for readers to identify with him. His developing not-quite romantic friendship lends some strong social tension to the strip (again, blatantly and hilariously lampshaded). Readers can likely sympathize with Marc and Joey's hesitation to risk ruining a perfectly good friendship with something more, and the ongoing subplot has yielded some of the strip's best writing. Most recently, Marc has accidentally let slip a "love ya, bye!" to Joey before leaving for a comic shop owners' convention. I'm interested to see how he tries to defuse that relationship bomb.

Capes 'n' Babes, in summary, is a pretty decent webcomic. Like many comics, its interesting characters if nothing else may make it worth the ride (Sluggy Freelance, anyone?), and the competent caricature-based artwork is a plus. It's a comic for diehard comic book fans in particular, but the light-hearted look at relationships may provide some appeal for the casual webcomic reader.

Capes creator Chris Flick is an avid comic convention attendee, and should you wish to meet him in person, you can find him at Pittsburgh Comicon this weekend (Sept. 11-13) and at the Baltimore Comicon October 10 & 11th. Additionally, Flick has a weekly geek-humor strip, CMX Suite, that you may enjoy. If any of his work sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to check it out.