The webcomics blog about webcomics

Happy Twelvesday

That calendrical coincidence out of the way, let’s talk webcomics.

Meredith Gran is somebody whose cartooning skills I hold in the highest regard (and goodness, would today be the day that Marceline and the Scream Queens releases its last issue; yes, it would be), so when earlier this week she pointed me towards a webcomic that I wasn’t familiar with, that immediately went to the top of my to-do list. Seriously you students in the SVA webcomics course, listen to Mer, she’s super-smart.

What I got pointed towards was Rachael & Penny by Lauren Zukauskas, which has (for about ten months now) been telling the story of a hot new music star (Rachael) and her somewhat overwhelmed manager (Penny), trying to navigate the pitfalls of these things called Fame and Friendship and Life. There’s a lot to like in R*P, especially the fact that the storytelling follows the Warner Brothers model instead of the Disney model. Let me ‘splain.

Think back on the old WB cartoon shorts that we grew up watching on Saturday mornings — they’re still in rotation, 50 or 60 years later. By contrast, Disney was cranking out short cartoons as well, but very few of them persist in the popular consciousness. Seriously, right now I could rattle off titles and plot descriptiosn of probably 50 WB shorts off the top of my head, but I’ve got maybe a handful of Disney cartoons with that degree of stickiness¹.

I think a big part of it is because so many Disney shorts (despite being lushly animated) felt forced in terms of their writing. Mickey’s funny! Donald’s funny! Let’s invent a situation where they can be funny in the same place at the same time! We’ll call it Wacky animals go to a place and then do wacky things because they’re wacky.

The WB shorts, by contrast, were more commonly defined by character; Bugs and Daffy didn’t do things because they were wacky, they did things (okay, wacky things) because who they are demanded that level of conflict between them. It wasn’t a case of What happened to whoever happened to be there?, it was a case of Who was there, and who else and ohhhhh boy, that’s not going to end quietly.

Thus, Rachael is impulsive, a bit thick, and completely bought into the rock star lifestyle and its attendant behaviors; Penny is overworked, frazzled, sees herself as Rachael’s friend but holds herself at a professional distance², and is maaaaybe nursing a bit of a crush. Throw a complication into the mix (say, bad publicity to be overcome with a public good act) and let ‘em rip.

Artwise, Zukauskas has settled very quickly (there are not quite 50 updates, each a page in length, from the start to the latest) into an adorably flexible style that echoes Bryan Lee O’Malley, Chynna Clugston, Faith Erin Hicks, Natasha Allegri, Vera Brosgol, and David McGuire; I’m not saying that Zukauskas is aping any of those styles, but that she has the same tendencies to shift from detailed to loose as the story demands. Examples: Rachael suddenly goes all scribbly (and that face-plant gag is great), Rachael’s eyes simplify to dots, anger is diffused by the power of caricature, and unexpected behavior shocks the world into black-and-white.

At present, Rachael and Penny updates weekly (Fridays), which means you’ve got a couple of days to get caught up before we see the fallout from the present situation (basketball game with Rachael, Penny, and a young lady who could best be described as a “hate-fan”), given who these characters are, who they think they are, and who they want each other to think they are. It’s going to be a fun, bumpy ride.

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¹ Um, you’ve got Der Fuehrer’s Face, that one where they’re in the car trailer that breaks away and careens down the mountain road, and … yeah, that’s all I’ve got right now.

² She always refers to her by surname: “Miss Amps”.

Thanks for the review, Gary! Meredith Gran is fantastic and I’m humbled and flattered that you guys enjoy my stuff. For me, writing that comes out of character dynamics is great fun, so I’m glad that other people are liking it too.

Here’s to many comics ahead!

Lauren

Awesome break-down of Disney and WB. I never watched the Disney cartoons as a kid because I just watched Bugs Bunny on repeat. My wife showed me an old Donald Duck cartoon the other day, and I just didn’t find it as awesome as WB stuff.

Now I know why!

Also, R*P looks great. I’m clicking the first button right…..now.

I think we remember WB shorts more than Disney shorts because the WB was aggressive about making it’s IP available to people and Disney is the company that locks stuff in “the vault” for 30 years in order to create artificial spikes in demand. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

I am of an age such that reruns of the old ’50s Mickey Mouse Club (and later, the mid-’70s version of MMC) were on the TV on weekday afternoons in my childhood. They ran plenty of classic Disney shorts, and I can’t remember a damn one of ‘em.

I was also able to catch the last gasp of hosted afternoon cartoon shows, with many shorts starring your Woodys Woodpecker or Huckleberrys Hound … I was well grounded in Disney, Lantz, Hanna-Barbera, Total Television, and other cartoon vendors. Only Jay Ward’s shows matched the brainspace commanded by Los Bros Warner.

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