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.


Anonymous said...

That's a very well written review. It made me want to read the comic all by itself.


Jackson said...

Good to hear--means I'm doin' my job. :) Thanks, Delos!

speearr said...

You've turned me into a Carpaccio fan. I swear, half the comics I read nowadays were introduced by you!!

Jackson said...

I'm glad, Speearr. I'm still trying to get people into Terence N. Tijuana, the artwork for which continues to blow me away. Maybe I should to a review of it! Also, I like to call it "Tenerence N. Tijuananana."

speearr said...

Haha that's a wacky take on the name. Review it? Would that be a conflict of interest since I'm one of your readers? LOL...

Anytime dude, anytime.

Bengo said...

Hi Jackson,

By chance, I've gotten to know Tony a bit before I've gotten to read the comic in depth, but he's a really decent guy, and I've always had the feeling that the strip would be a good read. It's terrific to see it receive considered attention.

- Bengo