The Webcomic Overlook #56: Ménage à 3
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
Posted on November 5, 2008, in 2 Stars, adult webcomic, comedy webcomic, fanservice, romance webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Menage a 3. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.