The Webcomic Overlook #78: The Original Nutty Funsters
I get a lot of e-mails from creators who are requesting reviews. As a result, I’m faced with a dilemma fellow webcomic bloggers can probably sympathize with. Should I review their comics and give exposure to some minor webcomics that just might find an audience thanks to your coverage? Or should I stick to webcomics I was attracted because it covered a topic I was interested in, which will hopefully make my opinions more valid and far less easy to dismiss with a “you’re obviously not the audience for this webcomic”?
Compounding the problem: I probably wouldn’t give a lot of the requests more than 1 star. Oftentimes, the art is off-putting and the humor is, shall we say, not up to snuff. I’d probably be spending my days typing out a whole slew of reviews for terrible webcomics. Not only would it sap my passion and energy, it would also manage to turn this blog into the webcomics version of “Talk Soup.”
I don’t want to abandon requests altogether, so I looked at the crop of review requests and asked myself, “Based on what I’m seeing, which one has the most potential?”
That’s when I ran across The Original Nutty Funsters, a comedy comic by Stephanie O’Donnell about slacker furries (note: her e-mail is quite insistent that it’s not a furry comic, and I can sorta see why, but I thought I’d tweak her a little). OK, so that kinda sounds underwhelming, and frankly a bit off the norm for what gets reviewed in this site. However, I felt a certain kinship with this comic … mainly because it looks a lot like a comic I drew for my college paper a decade ago.
According to Ms. O’Donnell, The Original Nutty Funsters has been in development since fifth grade. That was when she created the first character, a fella by the name of Poley. I’m pretty envious, actually. Writing comics based on childhood characters sounds like fantastic fun. I’d do it too if all my early characters weren’t transparent knock-offs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers. The modern incarnation of her strip ran in the K-State Collegian — the student paper of Kansas State University — back in 2004.
(Similarly, in El Santo’s college days, he used to draw black-and-white comedy strips of anthropomorphic characters. See what I mean by “kinship”?)
So what attracted me to The Original Nutty Funsters? Well, beyond the name, which promises original nutty fun? (The webcomic’s title, by the way, came from an Animaniacs catchphrase that totally got stuck in Ms. O’Donnell’s mind.) Well, I really dug the character designs. I called this a furry comic, but that title doesn’t feel totally appropriate to me. The characters do indeed have animal heads and human bodies. Yet the bodies are rail thin, a product, I suppose, of a steady diet of ramen noodles. Their shirts, probably one size too large, hang droopily over their stick limbs. It makes them look like twenty-something slackers straight of out a 90′s MTV sponsored movie with a score themed by The Counting Crows.TONF‘s characters exude the heavy-lidded ennui of college life, not the idealized depictions of good-looking frat boys and sorority girls from the movies. This should be a comforting balm for furry comic critics put-off by the general practice of putting huge boobs or glistening pecs on the bodies of the family pet.
Generally, the artwork is unpolished in the sense that the drawings look like they were drawn by Sharpies, then scanned into the website. (It’s actually drawn with the legit-sounding Sakura Pigma Micron Pens.) That said, it’s not terrible. Its freestyle aesthetic matches the bohemian tone of the comic, birthed, no doubt, by its origins in the college paper. It makes The Original Nutty Funsters feel small-scale: never tooled to be a commercial juggernaut like Penny Arcade. Just happy to be a small-time jokester hanging out with the college crowd.
However, I have to call out The Original Nutty Funsters on a major detriment. You know how one of the major criticisms about anime is that all the characters tend to look the same, except maybe with slightly different hairstyles? You don’t get the hairstyle excuse with The Original Nutty Funsters. There are four major characters, yet only two facial types: the bunny and the tiger. Compounding the problem: if the bunny-types did not have long ears, I’d be damned if I could tell them apart.
I hadn’t read the page listing the cast of characters first, so it took me a while to realize that the comic did, in fact, feature four individual characters. There was one strip where I was convinced that the punchline was about Bunny #1 was talking to a mirrorverse version of himself (which, oddly, was supported by the punchline). Does that sound wacky and implausible, even for a comic named The Original Nutty Funsters? Maybe. However, the following plotline involved trying to evict a giant silverfish with a Cockney accent, so I figured that wouldn’t be too far from Original Nutty Funster line of reasoning.
Fortunately, if anyone’s aware of the problem, it’s Stephanie O’Donnell herself. There are no less than two storylines commenting on how alike the characters look. In one story it’s implied that Henry Haresworth and Xerexes (both bunnies) are related because, well, they do kinda look the same. In the second, Dee Pilsner (who at least has the decency to differentiate himself from the others by sporting a stogie and grinning like a maniac), undergoes plastic surgery. Sadly, both end with a return to the status quo. I suppose for Ms. O’Donnell’s purposes, things are fine the way they are. But when the punchline in one of the strips becomes obscured because it depends on knowing which character is reacting, change may not be such a bad thing.
My own useless tip, by the way? Something along the lines of what Trey Parker and Matt Stone do: have ‘em wear different hats.
The tagline for The Original Nutty Funsters is “100% Joke Free. Guaranteed.” I would personally reduce it to “50% Joke Free”: half the jokes work, half the jokes don’t. The webcomic is sort of Seinfeldian in a way. Remember how Seinfeld was a show about nothing? Except it really was about something, only that something were trivial things that the cast got unreasonably dramatic over? The Original Nutty Funsters is sorta the same way.
There’s one story where Dee in a very Kramer-like fashion, decides to soup up a Hoverover (which, I think, is a scooter that the elderly use). Dee, by the way, has the most distinctive personality of the four male leads. A shame, since, as I mentioned previously, he’s already the most visually distinct. Shenanigans occur, as you might expect. The Hoverover speeds out of control, and Dee drags the straight-laced Henry with him. The other two characters react in their own typically lackadaisical manner. Surprisingly, we’re spared a shot of any sort of crash. There’s a short People’s Court vignette, end scene and roll credits (which actually happens).
This sums up the sort of humor you can expect from The Original Nutty Funsters. Basically, someone does something out of the blue, the other three characters react with unflappable irony, and maybe there’s one silly random element rolled in. There’s sessions where characters engage in floaty metaphysical navel gazing that end with “I need another beer.” It’s not all that original or nutty. I’m a little on the fence with the fun. Maybe the title was an ironic play on expectations?
Yet, The Original Nutty Funsters does work sometimes. Granted, I never laugh so hard it hurts my belly, but I do manage to crack a wry little smile from the edges of my mouth now and again. For that, I credit the dialogue, which is 50% dry wit and 50% stupid fun. I can’t, for example, not enjoy the following exchange:
Dee: Poley, what’s in the bag?
Poley: Marcellus Wallace’s soul.
Dee: You’re weird, man.
Poley: Your loss!
Kinda dumb, but it is sora worth it to see Poley breaking from his hipster poker face to scarf down whatever’s in that bag. Or, when one of the bunnies gets voted out of the knitting circle, he delivers a long defense punctuated by:
One of the bunnies: Not before I dye my cable knits with your blood.
I can almost imagine these exchanges delivered with Edward Norton’s quivering monotone. Plus, you can’t go wrong with jokes about knitting circles, ever.
Final analysis: The Original Nutty Funsters is imperfect. The art is confusing and the humor is, at times, more dry than funny. But it does have pretty decent stretches of dialogue, and once you get to know the characters the strip manages to somewhat make more sense. Am I going to be following this webcomic in the near future? No, probably not. Does it have a lot of potential? Yes, yes it does.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)