The Webcomic Overlook #56: Ménage à 3

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Welcome back to the show that never ends! The Webcomic Overlook is back from its month-long, wedding-driven hiatus to bring you the what-for in webcomics opinionating. Now that I’m back from getting married, honeymooning, and all that jazz, what should we talk about? She we cover a political webcomic in honor of our new president-elect? Should I cover yet another video game webcomic? Or perhaps a video game webcomic that dabbles in politics? I’ll cover those eventually. But today, I’ll cover a subject that’s first and foremost in the hearts of every American man. Yes, I’m talking about sex.

(Hint to parents: you might want to push your kids toward some sanitized fare for this one.)

Ah yes, sex. Some have claimed that there are studies that show men think about sex every fifteen minutes. To which I say, hogwash! How does one even conduct a study like that, anyway? Do they lock up a guy in a room and ask him, every fifteen minutes, if he was thinking about sex? And if that’s how the study was done, wouldn’t the man have no choice but to think about sex, especially if the question was delivered by a nurse in a peek-a-bo outfit? Look, if I’m reading an article out of “The Economist,” you can bet I’m not thinking about whoopie every fifteen minutes. I’m more likely to be thinking about the ramifications of the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade. Thus, I suspect that this particular nugget of knowledge is entirely bogus and was created by the fine people behind “Redbook” or “Mademoiselle” to sell extra copies.

Anyway, it’s impossible to read the subject of today’s Webcomic Overlook without thinking about sex every fifteen seconds. The comic stars a geeky, down-on-his-luck loser who shares his apartment with a sassy brunette and a giggly blonde. The comic version of “Three’s Company”? Close. Today, the Webcomic Overlook reviews Ménage à 3. (But really, the “Three’s Company” analogy is not too far off. There’s even a grumpy landlady.)

I feel it’s due diligence to reveal that the comic does, in fact, feature several scenes with frontal nudity, a scene or two of R-rated non-political congress, and a heaping spoonful of dirty sex talk. Thus, like the creators, I must warn you that Ménage à 3 is for readers 16-years-old.

According to the Keenspot blurb, the comic — created by Gisèle Lagacé and Dave Zero1 (which I suspect is not his real name) — “follows the lives of comic book geek Gary and his way-sexier-than-he-is roommates in their Montreal tight-as-a-sandwich apartment where the walls are so thin there are virtually no barriers between their rooms.” Oh la la! Sounds like quite an opportunity for a little je ne sais quoi, non? Also nekkidness. Copious amounts of nekkidness that somehow involve sandwiches.

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I had been keeping Ménage à 3 on the “To Review” for a while. Partially because when I encountered it, it was just starting out and hadn’t built up a backlog to some sort of story. (The comic debuted May 2008, I believe.) Even then, I was questioning whether or not it would be appropriate to review this title. I try to keep The Webcomic Overlook all-ages when I can. Yes, yes, I realize that, in the past, I have reviewed comics that have broached sexual topics and featured nudity. However, sex is the very core of Ménage‘s being, permeating the plots and dialogue. Dare I plunge The Webcomic Overlook to the outskirts of the literary Red Light District?

So what finally prompted me to write this review? When Ménage à 3 ended up on a recent list of ComixTalk’s “Most Read” webcomics. I always pegged the comic as an ultra-niche comic. However, the ComixTalk “Most Read” list places Ménage at #23: located only slightly below the venerable Sluggy Freelance and ahead of Shortpacked! (reviewed here) and Fanboys (reviewed here)? Inconceivable! More baffling was that Mme. Lagacé’s longer-term effort, Penny and Aggie (reviewed here), didn’t even crack the Top 25! This couldn’t be right, could it? Shameless smut trumping a drama about high school cliques? Absurd!

Turns out that a head-to-head comparison care of compete.com validates what I feared to be true: Ménage à 3 is now Mme. Lagacé’s flagship brand.

But surely, something is attracting the Ménage à 3 readership beyond the promise of unwrapped bosoms? I’m sorry to report that the answer is “No.” (Or “Non!”, as the French-Canadian character would say.) Ménage à 3 really is all about the boobies (link Not Safe For Work).

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We, the readers, are supposed to identify with Gary. This is the sort of standard male lead you get in many sorts of harem anime: a four-eyed virgin full of naivety and innocence. In a very North American twist, he’s also total comic book nerd. He’s got an awe-shucks quality that’s supposed to make you say, “My, why doesn’t a nice lad like him hook up with a gal who’s sympathetic, understanding, and, overall, really really hot?”

Supposed being the operative word, here. There’s a difference between being a clean-cut protagonist and a boring milksop, and Gary falls in the latter category. He just sort of floats from event to event, looking bewildered all the time. There’s an attempt in a recent story to flesh him out. (Despite Gary telling Zii that he was a virgin in an early strip, by the way, he still seems shocked that she’s privy to such information.) Ménage reveals that his virginity is due to lingering guilt impressed into his psyche due to his oppressive religious background. I’m sorry, but I call foul. So he’s a virgin — which, and I don’t mean to offend anyone, is a trait probably shared by a good percentage of the reader base — because he’s psychologically damaged? Then why did we even establish him as a total nerd? Most writers would consider this reason enough. Cliche, sure, but Lagacé and Zero1 are really just trading one cliche for another.

After his two homosexual roommates move out, Gary is joined by the other two member of the Ménage are Zii and Didi. Zii is a tattooed punk rock girl who entertains all your fantasies about Avril Lavigne (even if you detest her music her candy-colored definition of “punk.”) She’s defined by two characteristics: she’s a bisexual, and she’s what AV Club writer Nathan Rabin calls a “Manic Pixie Girl.” In other words, a girl who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Zii is the wacky member of the trio: a merry, carefree prankster that makes you grind your teeth and shut your eyes tightly, hoping that, by sheer force of will, she and her shenanigans will go gently into the night. (See also: every cloyingly cute teenage anime girl created.)

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Didi is, more or less, an undeveloped caricature of what an idealistic sex object looks like. Her personality is barely one-dimesional. She’s cheerful, giggly, and speaks with a crazy French-Canadian accent. Also, she knows how to cook. That’s enough, apparently, to send both Gary and Zii into uncontrollable fits of primal lust. She’s also drawn to the proportions of a Robert Crumb female. You know what I mean. Big bazooms. Interestingly enough, Lagacé tries to keep the body parametrics realistic. Thus Didi is also drawn as something of a giantess, towering over her other two roommates.

The choices of Zii and Didi as our heroes’ main objects of affection, is, how you say, rather unconventional. While no doubt some of you find a bisexual Bratz doll and the personification of WWE wrestler Beth Phoenix to be the sexiest duo ever. However, neither do it for me. To me, personality counts more than looks to female cartoon characters, especially since you can always switch up your drawing style or hire a decent artist if you need to fix a gal’s looks. And both Zii and Didi are so uninteresting that they could join Gary in the much touted ménage à trois and I wouldn’t care one whit.

Not helping matters any are the plots, which strive to be a screwball sex comedy. One plot has Zii and Gary fighting over a suntan lotion bottle for the rights to rub down Didi’s expansive back. Things devolve into “wacky” Looney Tunes shenanigans. But like a smutty movie you might have managed to catch once upon a time on USA Network’s Up All Night program, the sheer amount of shameless (yet equal opportunity) fanservice makes you feel more than a little dirty.

Then again, maybe I’m looking at the comic in the wrong way. The most explicit scenes in the comic involve man-on-man action. And, on seperate occasions, characters have presumed both female leads to be men, while there has been some insinuation that Gary is gay. This may be Mme. Lagacé’s attempt to make yaoi more acceptible to mainstream readers by dangling a “conventional” relationship and snookering the readers with man love. Not unlike that movie, Y tu mamá también.

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As with her previous works, the main attraction is Mme. Lagacé’s art. I prefer her work in page-size dimensions, like in Penny and Aggie. Ménage à 3 is limited here to a four panel comic strip format. Her art is still very attractive, one of the few webcomic artists practicing in manga style with a distinctive, personal signature. Ménage couples clean, crisp lines with distinctly Western (or in this case, Canadian) fashions and styles.

Ménage à 3 suffers on two major counts. First, Lagacé and Zero1 were trying too hard to make Gary a normal, relatable guy, and ultimately he’s portrayed as too much of a loser to be a guy readers would care about. Second, the two objects of affection, Zii and Didi, are too flat, and since neither can be seen as a desirable female, there’s no romantic tension there at all. “Will they-won’t they” doesn’t exist because the relationships feel inevitable and robotic. There’s no chemistry.

I appreciate that Mme. Lagacé seems to have created Ménage à 3 as a silly, carefree alternative to the more somber, soul-searching tone that Penny and Aggie has become. However, this is one breezy sex comedy is hardly breezy, not very romantic, and never funny.

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)

NOTE: Between you and me, half the fun of writing this article was coming up with all the outdated innuendos.

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on November 5, 2008, in 2 Stars, adult webcomic, comedy webcomic, fanservice, romance webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. My big issue with Menage a 3 is that it’s a *huge* bait-and-switch. We have the title, and the cast of two open-minded women with a young guy, and the strip has had more gay sex than anything but hardcore gay porn.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you set a premise, ostensibly to draw in readership, one would expect that you actually play to the premise. But maybe it’s just me. Perhaps Menage a 3 is intended to be more Kaufmannesque performance art where fucking with the audience is half the joke for the writers.

  2. Now for a moment of shame: I’ve been reading this since it started up, and I’d be hard pressed to tell you why. No, wait…that’s not true at all. It’s just something that’s easy to check in on on the days when Penny & Aggie isn’t updating, and about 1 out of 5 times you’re rewarded with a decent gag. Sometimes that’s a smile out of me, and occasionally an actual chuckle. Usually the brilliance of the gag is visual. Face it, Lagace is an excellent artist.

    I do wish she wouldn’t waste time on crap like this, though. A daily Penny & Aggie would benefit the world so much more.

  3. Ya know, Sly… a mini-Penny & Aggie sounds like an awesome idea. I’ve sorta drifted from P&A because the melodrama was getting overwhelming. But a P&A done in the spirit of the earlier strips? That’s the bee’s knees.

  4. I like that comic. I dont know why. I just do. I think it has somehting to do with humor and lighthearted sexuality. After all, i really enjoyed Ghastly’s Ghastly Comic. Manage a 3 is different, being almost a parody of adult comics, but has a similar juxtoposition at its core.

    I think that fact that i have never even looked at a Penny & Aggie strip is important. It lets me enjoy this strip without comparing it to the irrelevant other works by the same author.

    ~Ocho

  5. Please, re-read your last two paragraphs. You state that the artist tries to hard to create an average guy, and zii and didi just aren’t relationship material characters. To be blunt, your assuming too many things to make this a fair review. Perhaps the artist created the 2 female roomates in a way that wouldn’t result in the typical, slowly building relationship comic? You’re over analyzing ménage a 3 for what it is. You’re analyzing it for what you want it to be. It’s an alternative to penny and aggie, wasn’t designed to be heavily romance driven, and it delivers the laugh, three days a week. You seem to have come in expecting something much more complex, and your whole review is based on just that

  6. THANK YOU, Someguy, for speaking/typing truth.

  7. Dude, it’s a comedy comic that doesn’t take itself seriously. And it doesn’t take sex seriously. People don’t just read it for the sex, but also because it has a light-hearted, carefree, fun attitude about sex, and because, while it’s rarely ha-ha funny, it almost always puts a smile on your face. It’s meant to amuse as much as (probably more, even) it’s meant to arouse.

    Plus, I like it because the characters actually have personalities, including the one with the big boobs. She’s, ah, not a flat character in *any* sense of the word – although at first it seemed she would be (and I even stopped reading for a while because of that before randomly checking again, and noting that this was slowly but surely changing.)

    I think you need to read it again if you think either that the only character we are meant to identify with is Gary (if anything, while Gary is the centre of the story, Zii is a better candidate to identify with), or that the main female characters are either flat or undesirable… (and the fact that you put that last part into the review at all really confused me. O_o)

    Also, Gary is definitely *not* meant to be an average guy for everyone to identify with, from his extremely religious upbringing that led to him being sexually immature, onwards.

    Anyway, I also like the comic because while being about sex, it is neither sexist nor heterosexist; the gay characters are as positive (and negative) as the straight ones, and even if a female character is objectified in one strip, in the next she’ll start her own storyline that develops her as a person. And then she’ll go and objectify a guy. :P It’s a fun, enjoyable read.

    Mind you, the comic has stupid parts too, and sometimes it relies a bit too heavily on stereotypes (though it breaks them more than often enough to make up for it). But seriously, this review sounds like you assumed you already knew exactly what the comic is as soon as you heard “nerdy guy lives with hot girls,” and then based the whole review on that assumption, rather than the comic itself.

    • Thanks for your input, Bleh! I’ll be honest with you, I wish more commenters who disagreed with me went as in depth as this.

      Oddly enough, Menage a 3 is probably one of the few comics I’ve been following since the review write-up (can’t help it… a webcomic message board thread I frequent seems to post MA3 strips the moment they’re posted). I still don’t think the characters are still developed at all. They’re mainly a means to the end of Ms. Lagace’s hi-jinks.

      Example exchange: Gary accidentally feels up a girl, girl threatens to call the cops, girl finds Gary’s artwork and decides that she’s not going to call him on rape/sexual harassment, she wants him to be an artist! OK, first, not very realistic, granted. Signs of any character qualities beyond Gary is a horny virgin, girl is manipulative? Not really. Additionally, the joke wasn’t that funny, really, so once again MA3 is a miss with me.

      If, however, that’s the kind of humor that works for you, than good for you! I certainly won’t stop you from enjoying something you like. Yet the peril of being a reviewer is having an opinion, and if my opinion of MA3 is that the characters are flat and the joke aren’t that funny, then that’s what I’m writin’ down.

  8. Several years late here, but I’ve always found Lagace’s drawing reminiscent of Archie Comics’ style with some anime sensibilities thrown in. Which I like.

    I’ll be honest, I don’t read this for the story.

  9. I’m quite fed-up with all those “guilty male” bad reviews… I was looking for an open-minded light-hearted comic with a lot of sex and all size of boobs, nudity without pron and I’m quite happy with this, especially seeing different kind of sex-based relationships.
    Also refreshing, seeing all desperately annoying christian / romantic tropes everywhere.

  10. Hey Santo
    Just thought Id drop a line in regards to your review here of Menage a 3. Personally I agree with much of what you had to say about the comic. The art is certainly nice and one of the better artists working in the webcomic community but I would go further than just flat characterisation.

    Firstly Gary’s religious background was mentioned once in one comic to my knowledge (could be wrong). Firstly telling us that does nothing to endear the reader to Gary as we’re being told not shown and also since then, the issue has never come up again. It comes across as a throwaway line that makes no subsequent impact on Gary’s character – no religious references, no word of parents, no suggestion of the religion impacting his view of sex etc.

    In addition, since this review a number of other characters have emerged and personally I find none of them appealing. Gary is supposed to be the audience surrogate but he acts like a sixteen year old and has shown much inclincation to grow up. The resident gay character is a camp stereotype and commits acts that most people would find creepy. (Zii does this as well). There are other characters like Yuki who have sad backstories but all of it falls flat because they only think about themselves and never seem to demonstrate one iota of rational thought and maturity. In addition a lot of the time it seems like a lot of the creepier actions characters do are gotten away with scot-free.

    Don’t get me wrong I dont have a problem with sex comedies, but good sex comedies will still make attempts to humanise the characters and depict them as flawed individuals just trying to get laid (The 40yr Old Virgin is a good example and even American Pie did this and I hate that movie). Menage a 3 sadly is not funny to me and I find that sad because I do see potential. Its just that all that potential goes into whatever cheap penis gag they cane squeeze out of the situation.

    Keep up the good work. :)

  11. I recently stumbled upon the comic and for no reason just started to read it, while it does play into MANY tropes I found myself actually enjoying the comic because the characters and situations just humor me, like a even cheesier three’s company. I enjoy that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all and that’s probably the main reason I enjoy it. The sexy bits to me are alright and are mainly used as gags or to move the lightweight plot along which again I’m alright with.

    I guess I’m just a sucker for wacky roommate comedies.

  12. I used to read this comic, and I was honestly surprised to find that it was given a two star rating. Then I realized that was because this review predated the introduction of Yuki. Without going into lengthy explanations, I will simply say this: when one of the main characters is a misandrist who deliberately engages in a threesome knowing that her unbelievably traumatic issues will cause her to once again hallucinate tentacles where cocks should be, kick both the guy and the other woman in the groin, then wander down the street kicking every guy in the groin that she encounters on her way to the airport… then it’s time to stop reading. She’s not spunky, she’s “51-50.”

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