So, this last week, I've been really into Conan and Octopus Pie, I guess...?
They're both sitcoms-- situational comedies? Somehow, sitcoms became a bad word among educated people, but they’re great in theory: characters get into situations, and then the comedy is seeing how the particular character chooses to get out of them. A comedy that arises out of the observation of character? Well, hell, that doesn't sound so bad.
Oh god, Mama's Family.
Why, Vicki Lawrence? WHY?
You don't put Mama below the jump. You don't put Baby in the corner, and you don't put Mama below the jump. That's just common sense.
Octopus Pie is an Odd Couple sitcom created by Meredith Gran, a 20-something year old Brooklyn animator, about a pair of barely post-collegiate Brooklyn women who somehow end up as unlikely roommates. (Barely Post-Collegiate was my favorite Hustler magazine). One is high strung and angry; the other is a pot-smoking nudist.
Swearing, pot smoking and topless women... Combine that with a proper dosage of 1970's Conan comics, in order to get your Ultra-Violence food group satisfied, and you have my Recipe for the Perfect Evening of Comics.
Serve chilled. Get it? Chilled, like Hey, let’s chill out, dudes, but also chilled like… nevermind. You just had to be there.
It starts out a little rough—a digression concerning a stolen bicycle throws off the momentum of an over-abbreviated first chapter. Both writing and art only begin to click together late in the third story, "Bake 'n Bake".
Linking to specific strips/jokes won't work for this review though because OP works like a sitcom-- a situational comedy only becomes funny once you grow to know and like the characters, rising and falling more on that attachment than the strength or weakness of individual jokes. (e.g., an awful lot of otherwise smart people claimed 30 ROCK wasn't funny after the first episode or that it somehow magically got better; it was funny from the beginning -- they just didn't know the characters yet). Anyways-- sorry, no linking.
But: Octopus Pie has a nice mix of drug jokes, funny drawings, dialogue jokes, absurdity and character humor. I don’t want to oversell it: I often find it funny, but sometimes it misses funny and lands at cute or with a thud (... same thing, maybe). A couple of the characters still feel like Generic Types maybe too-common to webcomics—the laid-back wise graduate student boyfriend, the angry incompetent boss, etc.
But the ingredients are there. The terrific "Natural Phenomenon" and the excellently-titled "Skate or Don’t" seem to have started moving the comic to a better, funnier, more specific place: there are small stabs at considering regrets; a very-slowly emerging theme of moving on from the past.
It’s PG humor with R-rated elements—there’s nudity and drugs, but the tone is extremely sweet and good-natured. If you're waiting for, like, the Jules Feiffer of webcomics or whatever, the cartoonist who'll eviscerate the neuroses and delusions and prejudices of all-grownsed-up adults ala the stuff that’s collected in Feiffer's SICK SICK SICK, say-- I'm just not familiar enough with webcomics to point you in the right direction or to know who that is, or if they exist, unfortunately. Anyone..?
On the other hand, one of the Octopus Pie strips had a lady with a bong staring at a cat:
It's encouraging, though, the number of genuinely funny lady cartoonists on the internet. Danielle Corsetto's Girls with Slingshots has a similar "two ladies who get up to the business" premise, but is a very different strip, also often funny. Gran, Corsetto, Dylan Meconis-- all of these creators (and more I probably haven't heard of) putting out funny comics, finding their comedic voices at the same time... I don't know: I just hope that's a trend that's receiving a proper amount of attention and encouragement. Apparently, Octopus Pie is getting some lately for this making-of video, so… that’s … swell?
But I hate all webcomics ever forever, for the awful interfaces! Awful! Clicking the Octopus Pie webcomic takes you BACKWARDS through the comic instead of forwards. Why? Am I doing it wrong?? Who reads comics backwards?? Answer: Merlin. Like way too many webcomics, Octopus Pie forces you to hunt the "Next" link down on the page, position your mouse over a tiny four-letter word, and click that. Dude, dude, dude: I just want to read a fucking comic during my lunch break, not test my hand-eye coordination.
I am not Merlin: I live in a one-bedroom apartment, and I read Conan comics! Help me out.
CONAN, WHO IS A BARBARIAN:
For the last year or so, I've been primarily reading the classic Marvel comics, the heyday of the 1960's and early 1970’s. And I realized I'd never touched the Conan comics. But they have a significant place in that history, right? It was my understanding that Marvel’s Conan was one of the more popular books of the wave of just-slightly-darker comics that happened in the 1970's with the loosening of the CCA restrictions in '71-ish(?). Popular thanks to Roy Thomas and, more importantly, a young Barry Windsor-Smith.
It's such a long-lasting character. Conan’s been around since 1932. 1932! Robert E. Howard wrote well enough, I suppose; on the other hand, he also used to write things like: “I don’t know whether an Oriental smells any different than a [worst word in English language] when he’s roasting, but I’m willing to bet the aroma of scorching hide would have the same chastening effect on his surviving tribesman.” That attitude filters into the short stories here or there, like in this excerpt of Conan dialogue from 1936’s Red Nails: "The pay was poor and the wine was sour, and I don't like black women. And that's the only kind that came to our camp at Sukhmet--rings in their noses and their teeth filed--bah!”
And yet from such shitty beginnings... Today, Governor Conan rules my state! There are videogames, two movies (one good), comics still published to this day, etc. It's this vast empire of sweaty ridiculousness, built from the toil of a suicidal racist mama’s boy. Okeydoke.
It’s not even that Conan’s a particularly interesting character. I read a fistful of classic Marvel CONAN recently, and I couldn't tell you a single fucking thing about Conan except he likes to rock it shirtless, he's got a mullet, and he's into broadswords. So: basically what I imagine in my head anytime I hear someone talking about Mobile, Alabama. Dudes of Alabama: please live up to my lofty expectations of you! Conan's fictional biography is spelled out in the books and movies-- he wanders around, he becomes a king, etc., so what was left for the creators of the comics? In the issues I read, it seems like all they could do was put out a sitcom: "Here's the time Conan fought the Planet of the Apes underground." Or "Here's the time Conan fought a wizard." Or "here's the time Conan pretended to be gay in order to rent an apartment from the Ropers, but then there was a wacky misunderstanding."
The best issue I saw was Issue #4 by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith. "Here's the time Conan fights a crazy fucking tower." Conan goes to a crazy fucking tower; Conan kills a spider; Conan kills an elephant-alien; Conan kills a wizard; then the elephant-alien eats the wizard's soul, and the tower blows up for no reason like an asshole.
The issue was nominated for a Shazam Award from the Academy of Comic Book Arts, but it got beat by a Swamp Thing comic.
5 years of experience and continuity later, here is the plot of issue #64 by Roy Thomas and Jim Starlin: Conan fights a giant; Conan drinks some water; he find out the water’s been poisoned by a Wizard; Conan sleeps with the Wizard’s girlfriend then goes to kill the Wizard; the Wizard traps Conan with the giant, but they team up and kill the Wizard; Conan dumps the Wizard’s girlfriend, and rides off on this awesome horse. The end. Not… not a lot of evolution, no.
(Tangent: as evidenced by Conan #64 and Warlock, back in the 1970's, Jim Starlin really thought skulls were the raddest thing ever, I guess. Does he still do that? I think that's adorable. End of tangent).
The whole Marvel approach of Fantastic Heroes with Human Failings or Internal Contradictions-- it's nowhere to be seen. They didn't even fucking try. Any classic Marvel soap opera? Nope. It was just PLONK-- here's a Jurassic-era Redneck, true believers. He's going to wander around; he's going to fuck shit up; GiddyUp.
Still: CONAN hit the spot for me this week. The 70’s Conan comics were an obvious influence on Punisher or Wolverine, but Marvel couldn’t leave it alone with those two; they had to tack on all the stupid whining—Wolverine’s “Boo-Hoo, my past, I don’t remember my past” or Punisher’s “Boo-Hoo, my dead family.”
There is no “Boo-Hoo” with Conan. Conan's just porno for skinny dudes—there’s no time for all that foreplay. PLONK: commence with the macho. Conan just gets on with it; he loves it and leaves it; he hires it out at $4,100 an hour the day before Valentine’s Day; he creepy-sex-metaphors it. I liked that feeling reading those comics, that it’s all battle-axes and no Hiroshima, no way of gussying it up or pretending it’s fancy. It’s take it or leave it. It's my way or the highway. It doesn't have to go home but you can't stay here. It's 110%, 100% of the time. It's... When the going get tough... San Dimas High School football rules...
THE INEVITABLE CROSS-OVER:
Where are the macho webcomics?
The Dumb-ass Retarded Macho Bullshit market is so thoroughly addressed by traditional comics that I suppose it’s extra-difficult for a webcomic creator to get attention with that type of material. Sure, there’s misogyny in webcomics; couldn't have comics without that for... God only knows what reason. Your Webcomic is Bad can point you to plenty of that. But what about machismo? What about Ricardo Montalban?
It has to be a tragic microcosm of SOMETHING how the 20-something year old ladies are putting out these webcomics where people are partying and smoking j’s and kissing and having fun, and 20-something year old guys are creating webcomics about sitting on their couch playing videogames by themselves.
I’m no anthropologist but I’m pretty sure that’s what it looks like when societies become sterile. I think it’s a warning sign, like the thing with the frogs or the thing with the bees or the thing where my dick no longer gets hard and sometimes it vomits blood.
It is for that reason I must conclude this review by urging the gentlemen webcomic creators to take a moment, pause, and pay heed.
Gentlemen, if I say I'm a comic book fan, you will agree. Gentleman, I urge you to read more 1970’s Conan comics and learn from their contents, learn what people not making comics on the internet refer to as “ALPHA MEN.” Strapping, hairy, brain-damaged alpha men, who punch things, and enjoy punching things, find transcendence in their punching, like Conan, like … perhaps you someday, perhaps even you. If I must put it to you in your own language, in your vernacular, then let me say that there is a value to alpha men that, indeed, may even be better than the value provided by Valve’s ORANGE BOX. See? I speak the lingo.
I urge you, I urge you: shut off the X-Box, grow a mullet, take off your shirt, stand on a street corner hollering at women, and let’s turn this society around, fellas, before it’s too late. Biological clocks are ticking.
Just close your eyes and think of Crom. Thank you.