Webcomics Capsule Reviews #4

You draw 'em, I read 'em.

She Always Looked Good in Hats
Matthew Melis

Alice, an unemployed Ph.D., gets a summer job at a cozy but isolated boutique hat shop while searching for full-time work. Soon she's tracing her life history through hats, seeing the world through hat designs, and getting the idea of starting her own store. Meanwhile, her friends pick their own cautious way through adulthood.

Matthew Melis has a charming Carol Tyler-like style, with a touch of M.K. Brown. She Always Looked Good in Hats is drawn in a loose, flowing line with gray ink washes; the action is fluid with a strong through line, and the characters move against briskly sketched storefronts, apartment interiors, and city streets. The art is full of elegant little touches, like a sigh appearing as a curlicued “exhale.”  Melis draws lots of different body types—Alice has huuuuge thighs—and weaves issues of gender, race, and size into the story. Also, you learn about the hat business.

A little under fifty pages long, this is a friendly little graphic novella, a laid-back character study that gives Melis the chance to show off his visual storytelling chops. His site, nongravity.com, includes other comics and art, most notably “Strong”, a sweet wordless short story about a circus strongman. Melis's other work includes collaborating on an animation/aerialist performance for America's Got Talent, which, come on, is pretty cool.


The Element of Surprise
Shaindle Minuk

The Element of Surprise is one of many comics on MisterKitty.org, the joint site of married cartoonists Shaindle Minuk and David R. Merrill. Bespectacled brunet reporter Ben and cute blond contractor Mark meet cute when Mark rescues Ben from an alley after he’s beaten up by hired goons. Could this be the setup for... a Boys' Love comic? It could indeed! This is BL on its mildest flavor setting, with lots of slow conversation and very gentle sexual tease. Ben’s ex-girlfriend knows what’s up right away, but it takes the guys a good long time to get to the makeouts. Personally I like it when dudes cut to the chase and get to banging, but I guess some readers are into romance and stuff.

Meanwhile, as this is a BL romance with an actual plot, Ben's investigations keep leading him into intrigue, forcing Mark to rescue him. Ben gets kidnapped and tied up a lot. Between the action, Mark and Ben angst over their relationship and protecting each other from danger. Both guys are super nice and respectful, providing an illustration of why most BL is about horrible screwed-up relationships: they have the unfortunate tendency to be more exciting.

Minuk's old-fashioned, black-and-white shojo-style art is still unpolished and her anatomy stiff, but to her credit she tries to draw the characters in a variety of poses both sexy and action-packed. Everyone looks like a Polly Pocket doll, cute with big sensitive eyes, even when getting it on. It makes the kidnapping and torture scenes particularly uncomfortable—the art is too cute for scenes where people are tied up and scarred with cigarette burns. Minuk's style meshes better with funny material, as when Mark talks to his penis about being all gay. The backgrounds depicting the characters' unnamed city are blocky and unremarkable, but that's par for the course in BL.

Two complete storylines are up on the site so far, plus bonus short stories. So far it's a sweet and serviceable story of dudes in love fighting bad guys. If I don't sound more excited, I probably needed more penis conversations.


American Spirits: Freelance Ghostbusters
Andi Santagata

In a world where ghost attacks are a not uncommon problem, Jen and Allie are roommates and unemployed ghost hunters. From time to time they pick up assignments, but mostly they hang out with each other and their friends, including their other roommate, a surly teenage ghost. American Spirits is pretty clearly influenced by the movie Ghostbusters—I mean, it's right there in the subtitle—but with more of a girly slacker vibe. Mostly it's a laid-back serial about two gals going to parties and clubs, taking odd jobs, and busting big green glowing ghosts.

Like most webcomics, it gets better-looking as it goes; the art in the second storyline is pretty stylin’. The loose, flowing art is sometimes uneven but appealingly distinctive. American Spirits has been running since February with twice-weekly updates of random sizes and shapes. So far Santagata is only about thirty pages in and it's hard to predict where the story will go, but it's a promisingly goofy action-comedy.


The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo
Drew Weing

First off, this is a Drew Weing comic, so obviously it's gorgeous. From his first webcomic, Pup (one of the launch titles on Serializer.com, and doesn't that take us back), Weing has been putting other webcartoonists to shame with his clear line, candy colors, and sky-high visual imagination. His most recently completed graphic novel, the lovely Set to Sea, went straight from the Web to hardcover from Fantagraphics, and Margo Maloo will no doubt find an equally loving home in print after its run online.

Our protagonist in this winning children's comic is Charles, a chubby, serious-minded kid and aspiring journalist. Moving to the big city with his well-meaning parents, Charles finds himself living in a creepy old hotel which he's convinced is haunted—and sure enough, there's a monster in his closet. But never fear, for the city is patrolled by Margo Maloo, Monster Mediator, a badass little girl in a trench coat who tools around the city on a motorcycle. Margo isn't about fighting monsters, though; she understands their culture and tries to broker peace between the monsters and the kids who have to deal with them.

Again, this is a flat-out fantastic looking comic. The busy, bright-colored city streets and spooky building interiors are inhabited by pug-nosed kids, bug-eyed adults, and huge, snaggletoothed, Totoro-like monsters. Weing's art has gotten looser and more cartoony over the years, trading the cool clean-line perfection of Pup for a scribbly expressiveness reminiscent of Joann Sfar. The story is lively enough to match; I like the cleverness of having the kids work out their differences with the monsters instead of fighting them, and Charles has the nebbishy pragmatism of a Daniel Pinkwater protagonist. (Comparing a writer to Daniel Pinkwater is the highest compliment I have to give.) Updating twice weekly since February, Margo Maloo is only a couple of chapters in, but it’s shaping up to be a heck of a comic. Tell your kids.


Want me to review your webcomic? Email TCJ with a link. I promise nothing.