The Webcomic Overlook #65: Thingpart
Humor is like a pizza. Every has a different idea about what’s great and what’s terrible, and no two people will ever come up with the same recipe.
I was at a dinner party with relatives last night, and we decided to catch Mad Money on HBO. Everyone’s laughing uproariously at the delightful antics of Queen Latifah and friends … except me. I sat on the sofa with a dumpy, annoyed look on my face. I tricked my brain into a trance by chanting “this is not funny, this movie makes no sense, they’re just pandering to blue collar fantasies” over and over under my breath, just to take my mind off of how much I hated the Diane Keaton character and to hide my disappointment that she never gets her comeuppance. (Oh yeah… spoiler alert.) As you can imagine, I was the life of the party.
Meanwhile, I do realize that my own tastes in humor are rather unconventional. I don’t mean to say that I’m one of those people who think that Freddie Got Fingered was a misunderstood work of genius, though I assure you such people exist. (To bring this back to the pizza analogy, it’s the anchovy pizza.) I won’t, though, ever foist my MST3K DVDs on anyone until after I’ve conducted an indepth assessment based on 29 personality traits. I made that mistake once of watching the show with my wife, and all I got was an awkward two hours where she really was doing everything she could to show that nothing on the screen was interesting at all. That’s the bane of seeing humor you don’t find funny: it’s one of the most painful experiences on earth.
Eventually, to keep the peace, you and your cohorts must agree on a region that neither party finds uproariously funny, but are just funny enough so that everyone has a good time, at least until someone cracks open the case of Smirnoff’s.
I name that region “Adam Sandler.”
Which brings us to today’s webcomic review: Thingpart, by Joey Allison Sayers. To me, this comic is COMEDY GOLD. But I also laugh at obscure references to The Mothers of Invention, Lysistrata, and Monty Python’s “It’s” Man, so mileage may vary.
Joey Allison Sayers’ body of work is prolific. She’s the co-owner of Space Pancake, which is not a restaurant serving delicious intergalactic breakfasts under glowing cosmic lights, but rather an online apparel store featuring a sparse selection that includes this festive T-shirt emblazoned with The Drunk Bee . (A reference, no doubt, to this comic). She has designed greeting cards. Her work has appeared in fine publications like MAD Magazine and Too Much Coffee Man. That’s a pretty damn awesome resume, the likes of which should get you hired in, um, top Fortune 500 companies maybe?
Ms. Sayers’ Thingpart is one of those rare webcomics that are also published in papers. Actually, make that in ultra-local alternative newspapers, like the San Diego Reader (one of the most e-mailed articles: “A New Dog Park Worth Barking About”), the Portland Mercury (“The Auteur‘s not a porno. It’s just really naked,” exclaims staff writer Marjorie Skinner), and the Albuquerque Alibi (“What will 2009 bring…? Two psychics, a medicine man, a tarot reader and a couple of folks from the street give us the answers in our annual Psychic Predictions issue.”)
“El Santo,” you say, “please don’t review a comic that’s being published in alternative weeklies. They’re always about half-baked radical left political commentary, drug induced hallucinations, S&M, or men who have the brain of a dog. And it’s always done in that soul-crushing Kitchen Sink Comix style.” And … you’re right. Mostly.
Except for Thingpart. What’s the thing that sets Thingpart apart?* If I were to describe Thingpart in just one word, it would be “delightful.”
The comic gets off to an unassuming start. I’d like to coin a term: T-shirt comic. Now, I understand T-shirt sales are an integral part of a lot of webcomic business models. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about comics that look like they’re already T-shirts, namely baby tees tees at Anchor Blue or Fuego. Or… Space Pancake. (Dun dun dunnnnnn!!!!)
Early Thingpart looks like poster child for a T-shirt comic. It’s got doodly drawings and whimsically ironic catchprhases that today’s independent-minded preteens love. It reminds me a lot of Meghan Murphy’s Kawaii Not (reviewed here), the comic version of the Junior Miss section at Macy’s.
The comic, though, eventually matures into a comfortable artistic and comedy groove. One of the best examples of a typical Thingpart is also one of my favorites, “The Garden of Ed” (probably NSFW). It’s a familiar story about a man, a woman, and a forbidden fruit. Only, by the last panel, our original expectations have been completely subverted by the clever punchline.
From an art standpoint, Thingpart is, superficially, rather primitive. Ms. Sayers draws her strip simplistically. It resembles something done by a fourth grader using nothing more than a sharpened no. 2 pencil. It’s disarming, and it leaves you unprepared for what clever twist Ms. Sayers has for you in the end. Nicholas Gurewitch employed a similar aesthetic in Perry Bible Fellowship (reviewed here). It’s probably because grade school is the last time you could draw death and make it cute.
However, while PBF imparts you with a vague sense of melancholy, Thingpart just cheers you up. Even when the comic gets a tad gruesome. Maybe it’s because the characters — with their simple round faces, beady eyes, and rounded teeth — always look either a little innocent or a little loopy. Maybe it’s because, whether she’s doing political or religious humor, Ms. Sayers touch is light that she might as well be reciting a knock-knock joke.
Thingpart is also a great strip to just click around at random. A “random-click comic,” if you will. (Hooray for made-up terms!) Witness a nerd’s unlikely revenge in “The Nerdular Gambit.” Or what happens when a batty old lady who leaves her fortune to her cat. Or follow recurring characters like the superhero Amazing Helper and a box-like God who isn’t very holy. Chances are, you’ll find something you love.
So yes, Thingpart appeals to my particularly oddball sense of humor. It’s charming and silly, clever and witty, wacky and non sequitur. It never insults the reader’s intelligence. And, most importantly, it makes me laugh. And it almost takes away the yucky taste of Mad Money.
Final Grade: 5 stars (out of 5).
* – Whatever. Like you wouldn’t write the same thing if you were writing a review for a comic named Thingpart.