The Webcomic Overlook #72: Sister Claire

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Scott Kurtz recounted an unforgettable anecdote on one of Halfpixel’s Webcomic Weekly podcasts. I’m not sure which one, and I’m not going to waste my time trying to dig it up just to post a link here (says the guy who’s been updating Comixpedia like a dog on crack the last couple of days). A webcomic creator solicited Scott’s advice. She gave a barebones explanation of her concept: it was to be a story about a pregnant nun. Mssr. Kurtz thought it was a cool idea at first, and he had a few suggestions lined up about how to run with the story. The creator, though, elaborated that the nun would give birth to a robot which the nun would then ride. At that point, Kurtz, exasperated, admitted that he was at a loss as to what to suggest.

I, on the other hand, had a different reaction. It sounded more like: “Hell with you, Kurtz! That sounds like an awesome story!” Incidentally, I’m also the guy who used to own a nifty PVC of the title character in American McGee’s Alice.

OK, so the premise sounds a bit tacky, and I can think of at least 70 different ways where such a story could go off the rails… and, frankly, I was betting on it. However, the concept is, at the very least, intriguing. I vowed that if I ever found that comic, it would be treated to a full-length review here at the hallowed halls of The Webcomic Overlook.

Well, there are rumors on the net that comic in question is none other than Sister Claire, whose tagline is “Pregnant Nun? Holy crap!” It’s written and illustrated by a creator who goes by “Yamino.” While I found no evidence of the mecha-baby, I admit that the comic is still quite new. Perhaps Yamino hadn’t gotten around to it yet … or perhaps she’d decided to go in a different direction.

Anyway, cyber-tot or not, I gotta say there’s plenty of other weirdness to be found in these pages. The question, of course, is whether or not it’s going to be worth your while. Will you, dear reader, see a pregnant nun and cuss like a sailor like that tagline suggests?

Sister Claire 1

According to her online bio, Yamino was “born in Rome, Italy, but has also lived in California, Austria and Belgium.” As a result, she’s somewhat multilingual, and it shows in her site. Sister Claire is one of the few webcomics that are available in French and Spanish translations.

The comic stars Sister Claire, a chippy young postulant who’s ridiculously happy, collects cute tchotchkes, and accident prone. So, basically, the spitting image we all have of young nuns ever since Rodgers and Hammerstein made us believe in Maria von Trapp. She also looks eerily like Kim Possible in a nun’s wimple, which is almost certainly someone’s secret fantasy.

Now, before we go on, I’d like go on a bit of a tangent and quote something said by Roger Ebert when he was reviewing the movie Doubt:

In my eight years of Catholic school, not a one of the Dominican nuns was anything but kind and dedicated, and I was never touched, except by Sister Ambrosetta’s thunking forefinger to the skull in first grade. But I clearly remember being frightened by Sister Gilberta, the principal; being sent to her office in second or third grade could loosen your bowels. She never did anything mean. She just seemed to be able to.

Sister Claire 2

I attended Catholic school from kindergarten to my senior year of high school, and I sympathize with Roger’s lament. The Sisters — and former Sisters — were the paragons of kindness and patience. I was more wary of the lay teachers, who sometimes seemed exasperated over working so hard for so little money at a Catholic school. I suppose taking that vow of poverty lets you eliminate at least one worry in life.

I mention this because no nun in Sister Claire is based on any nun I’ve encountered in real life. The webcomic is filled to the brim with the stereotypes of strict harridans that you see in TV and movies. They are the kind whose face is always contorted in a sneer. As you might expect, Sister Claire‘s nuns seem to take a sadistic joy in beating kids with a ruler under the guise of discipline. You’d think that the kids’ parents would sue the hell out of the school, but I suppose Catholics are naturally masochists.

The most cruel is the villainous, hare-lipped Sister Marguerite. Her hatred towards the title character is so overblown that she might as well have a curly moustache and a top hat, sneering, “Curses! Foiled again!” whenever Sister Claire escapes her punishment. For Pete’s sake, she stabs Claire with a syringe at some point. Methinks she didn’t do it to immunize her from the smallpox virus.

Sister Claire 3

Of course, we’re introduced to one friendly nun: Sister Catherine. “See, Captain Nihilist,” you say, “there’s at least one character who plays against the type!” Shyeah, right. The “one friendly nun” is itself a stereotype in Abbey-centric fiction. Without ever reading Sister Claire, you can bet that our “one friendly nun” is almost always the mother figure to the hero or heroine. And if she raises Claire like she were her own child? That’s, like, bonus points!

There’s also a huge downside to being the “one friendly nun”: Sister Catherine is likely going to be our future tragic victim when ominous forces start to plague the abbey. Sorry Sister Catherine… that’s how the cookie crumbles for holy mentors since that Exorcist movie. Then again, how bad can things be when the creature standing in for the devil is played by an anime cat? I mentioned in my Alpha Shade review that I don’t find housecats to be terror-inducing as some webcomic writers make them out to be, and Sister Claire doesn’t change my opinion one whit. Especially not when the cat looks like it was designed by Sanrio.

We inevitably get to the Messianic portion of the story. Claire gets a visit from a blue-skinned angel named Gabrielle. (Get it? Huh? Huh?) Yamino seems to be going with a literal form of potty humor here: Gabrielle meets Claire after she emerges from the toilet. By the way, for an angel who dresses up in a smart, modern business suit, she seems to have trouble grasping certain elements of modern life… such as what toilet paper is for. Anyway, Gabrielle tells Claire that she’s chosen to … wait for it … give birth to a Savior.

Later, Claire takes a pregnancy test, which turns up Messiah Positive. At the same time, she also unwittingly summons a legion of allegedly adorable Bubble Babies. Then we’re treated to several panels where the comic squishes them. These fragile proto-angels squish into a mess of goo and eyes when you press on them too hard, yet can be regenerated infinitely when Gabrielle is in the mood to form a babby.

Sister Claire 4

All this reminds me of a couple of allegedly edgy cartoons from both the past and present: The Brothers Grunt, which no one remembers but which aired on MTV after Beavis & Butthead and starred a veiny family of mute, constipated toilet dwellers; and The Oblongs, which airs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and which allegedly is a satire of suburban life starring a family of amputees. Both shows tried to milk humor out of grossness. And man, I hated both those stupid cartoons.

But you know what? I don’t hate Sister Claire. Yeah, it’s filled with tired stereotypes, the main character is moé to the point of being irritating, and the story thus far has been predictable as hell. Yamino, though, seems to be perfectly aware of her comic’s short-comings and decided to do the best with what she has. She’s done a good job capturing the claustrophobic Gothic moodiness of the abbey. And while her cutesy, Cartoon Network style isn’t for everyone, I thing she’s come up with some fairly eye-catching character designs.

Perhaps I’m most impressed that Sister Claire hasn’t gone off the rails like I expected. Plenty of cartoonists who try to do satirical religious humor go too far to the point where everything — like, say, a Kung-Fu Jesus — feels forced, as if the writer was pandering to the easy-to-amuse Bill Maher crowd. Sister Claire, on the other hand, feels like it could stand on its own with the narrative alone, and the gags don’t need to be any more cutting that squishable bubble cherubs.

So am I saying that this webcomic is an admirably restrained story about a pregnant nun? Not really (though, to be fair, not once did I say, “Holy crap!”) However, I do think Sister Claire could benefit from more bizarreness. If Yamino had somehow sought advice from me rather than Scott Kurtz, I’d have this to say: “Keep it real. Go ahead and put a robot in that mofo. And throw in a Kung-Fu Pope, too. One that’s made of the Anti-Life Equation. Eh? EH?”

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

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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 March 4, 2009, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, comedy webcomic, fantasy webcomic, gothic, manga style webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Thanks for reviewing my comic! This is definitely the most thoughtful and in-depth review I have received yet.

    More weirdness, you say? Don’t worry. It’s all coming up rather soon. These first few chapters still take place in the abbey, and so apart from angels coming out of toilets things are relatively low key. And Claire hasn’t even started to show any signs of pregnancy yet. Patience, the real craziness hasn’t even begun yet. XD

  2. P.S. On mean nuns:
    If you read my “about” page, I describe my own experience growing up in a Roman Catholic school in Rome, Italy. I have a feeling that nuns from the Vatican are arguably the most old-school and hardened of them all. I’m sure they meant well, but all the same they were not especially kind, as most of my American catholic friends’ experiences were. =P And if I thought *I* had it bad, my father’s horror stories about Italian nun-run boarding schools are even scarier. Oh well, it makes for good stories. XD

    • Thanks for clearing up your experiences with nuns, Yamino! I should have definitely put your overseas experiences into consideration, given that I mentioned it and all. :)

      I brought up the “mean nuns” because people in the US, who by and large go to public schools, do have a lingering misconception about Catholic schools. Maybe the conceptions were formed from an era long ago. Since Ebert, who’s not exactly young, also had a likewise good experience, I think it may have been an era earlier than the 50’s. And then there was the recent molestation scandal that tarnished the reputations of Catholic priests in public eyes.

      There I times that, when I mention I spent my formative years in Catholic school (an all boys’ school, in fact!), the listener is aghast. Like it’s some frightening haunted house where the boogie man lives. They have this idea of a hard-nosed school more aligned with your own experiences (and what is presented in Sister Claire). I always try to explain to them that those were some of my best and exciting years, and that the priests and nuns weren’t humorless monsters like they’d assumed.

  3. Great review, I’m a dedicated reader of Yamino’s comic (and blog). Reviews like these will give her the credit she desirves, and maybe more…

  4. Anime cat?
    Looks like the ‘traditional’ Cheshire Cat to me. About as far from anime as you can get.

    • Obsession with Western culture and anime are not mutually exclusive. What if I told you it looked like an anime version of the Cheshire Cat? Anime has done several versions of Alice in Wonderland, including (as you might expect) a kinky version. Besides, I don’t think the cat looks that much like John Tenniel’s original illustrations, which was fatter and fluffier.

  5. It was mostly the grin which made me think of Cheshire.
    Didn’t know there were anime versions, though.
    Shouldn’t be very surprising, when I think about it.

  6. You really should’ve given this one just a bit more time more time. I’m not saying it’s now the best comic ever, but there are loads more good nuns at least. And nun-fu. Nun-fu, damn it! OK, I really just like saying that.

  7. I thought this was a fair and balanced review. (don’t sue me, Fox!) But I came to it because TV Tropes has it listed as a negative review and I was curious what beef people had with Sister Claire.

  8. Sister Claire is actually one of my favourite comics. I personnaly thought the art was really nice (especially when it gets the eye-searing color palette in chapter 2), and I admire the way the comic completely throws sanity out the window without losing site of the storyline. That said, I really like your reviews, and I think that you were really fair to the comic.

  9. SisterClaire.com keeps getting better and better. Time for a NEW review!

  10. You gotta read her story;. and the artwork is eye candy!

  11. I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here. The sketch is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get bought an impatience over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again as exactly the same nearly very often inside case you shield this hike.

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