The Webcomic Overlook #88: Daisy Owl
Online, Cracked has been going through a lengthy process to distance itself from it’s dismal and historical reputation of being the poor man’s Mad Magazine. The efforts, I think, have been largely successful. When you think Cracked these days, you think less of “magazine that also does comic movie parodies but not quite as funny or creative as Mad” and more of “Top 7 List of Trivia that makes you feel all smart and knowledgeable, although generally the information is pretty worthless and the only reason you read it was because you liked seeing the words ‘Max Planck’ and ‘badass’ together.”
Well, that’s not completely true. There’s also “Top 7 list of things where we can laugh about other people’s cultures,” “awkward YouTube sketches that used to be aired on public access channels,” and “photoshop contests that are not as quite as funny or creative as SomethingAwful’s Photoshop Phridays.”
Cracked is also a strong proponent of webcomics. Unlikely as it might sound, the site is starting to become key in introducing webcomics to new audiences outside of the typical circles (e.g. nerdy and verbose blogs like The Webcomic Overlook). Think of it as the funny pages section of your local newspaper. I can’t vouch for the quality, though; some comics, like the recently showcased Fatawesome, have been mind-bogglingly terrible.
However, sometimes Cracked strikes gold. The site and the members of its forum are partially responsible for the publicity of at least one decent webcomic. It’s the subject of today’s Webcomic Overlook review, Ben Driscoll’s Daisy Owl.
According to an interview conducted by CBR’s Robot 6, Daisy Owl began life on the Cracked.com forums. (Are forums a good way to test-market your comic? I don’t have a definite answer, but I give a tentative “yes” … if the forum isn’t filled with “everything’s great” enablers.) The comic got a huge boost from Anthony “Nedroid” Clark, who drew a fan art of one of the characters. (I reviewed Nedroid’s comics here and here. Also, his Bad Webcomics were the inaugural webcomic feature on Cracked). One thing lead to another, and soon Daisy Owl landed a prominent feature on the Cracked.com front page. Sitewise, Daisy Owl leaves much to be desired. There’s no About page, no list of characters… there isn’t even a credit on the strip telling you that the comic is, in fact, created by Ben Driscoll.
The title takes its name from one its characters, a young girl named Daisy Owl. She is easily identified by her thick glasses, deadpan attitude, and the big daisy stuck in her bonnet. She’s also very smart, what with knowing the biggest number and all. Despite her ambitions in mad science, overall she’s a very practical kind. I imagine if a Daisy Owl cartoon were ever made, she’d be voiced by Sarah Vowell.
Her brother, Cooper, is not as intelligent, but no less curious. He’s your typical boy, playing with little boy toys like stuffed bears and plastic dinosaurs … only stuffed bears must be put through the perils of experimental medical treatments and the dinosaurs get repurposed in a morality play regarding misconceptions about Industrial Revolution .
Together they attempt to put together new inventions and use their vivid imaginations to infuse their playthings with mad science. They live in a world very similar to Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. You know how Lucy would be running a lemonade stand that gave out psychiatric advice for a nickel? And in the back of your mind you’d be wondering, “What would a kid without any sort of college degree know about psychiatry?” Daisy and Cooper play in a world that’s intelligent for their age, yet are unable to completely grasp the concept or separate it completely from the world of their playthings.
Long story short: it’s cute!
Their dad is Mr. Owl. He’s an actual owl. Despite some physical resemblances between Daisy and her dad, the two are not blood relations. No, Daisy and Cooper were adopted. Mr. Owl is a bit of an aging hipster, buying ironic shirts and ashamedly watching Princess Bride well into middle age (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as his friends try to convince him). He’s also not as wise has his owlish reputation would suggest, having to be reminded constantly how raising humans is not quite the same as raising owls. It’s sort of an endearing look into the life of a befuddled single dad.
The story initially revolved around the Owl kids, but as Daisy Owl progressed, the spotlight seems to have shifted to Steve, Mr. Owl’s old pal from high school. And why not? The jokes about Steve seem to feel more natural.
Steve is a laid back dude who, at the beginning, is looking for a job but eventually is gainfully employed at The Guild of Honey. He is also a bear … a polar bear to be specific. This leads to several parallels on race. Bears, for example, have restaurants that serve ethnic fare where “they spray you with a hose and throw salmon on your face.” Bears are also subject to unique physiological considerations, too, which means Steve has to figure out how to beat that urge to hibernate.
In Daisy Owl, bears are sometimes the subject of bigotry from humans. There’s even some casual racism going on among their own species (like when Steve’s brother, a grizzly, feels hesitant when he’s invited to a polar bear party). Steve’s own parents, a traditional couple with some bigoted views, are very concerned when Steve mingles with people of other species, including a certain owl, perhaps? Yet Steve, like most of us, takes it all with a shrug of his shoulders. Life’s complicated as it is, y’know?
As heavy-handed as this might sound, Mr. Driscoll deftly treats everything with a light touch. Rather than preach, these sorts of dilemmas instead build the character of the Daisy Owl world. As Ben says in his interview,
If I were a lazy writer, I’d use their non-traditional situation as a soapbox and make lame political comics. I’ve resisted that temptation so far. You have no idea how hard that was during the election.
Besides, Daisy Owl is, above all, pleasantly surreal. Steve’s job at The Guild of Honey fills a good portion of the weirdness quotient. It’s a ridiculous corporation that puts honey at the center of everything. Some of the best jokes in Daisy Owl stem from Steve temporarily filling in for the Queen Bee. Other jokes revolve around weird and unlikely honey-based inventions like the honey laser.
Not that an owl with two adopted kids and Steve have a monopoly on weirdness. Why does Steve’s brother have a not-quite-magical wizard for a roommate, anyway?
Weirdness is so prevalent that you could start wondering about some of the incongruities in the world of Daisy Owl. Like why do sentient animals still get treated like objects by humans? I mean, in a world where anthropomorphic characters exist on a fairly equal footing, why would they still get mistaken for discount novelty objects?
Stylistically, Daisy Owl will always get compared to the popular Achewood (reviewed here). The minimalistic compositions, the square dialogue boxes and no-nonsense fonts, the black and white format with the gray shading, thie simple panel layouts, and the character designs look somewhat similar. With “Haunting Rememberance of a Roadside Rest Stop”, Daisy Owl even imitates how Achewood sometimes forces your brain to fire synapses from left side to the right side as the strip switches to an all prose format.
Where Daisy Owl differs significantly is the mood. Achewood warns you ahead of time, what with that cat in the thong, that it’s going to enter some fairly adult territory. Daisy Owl, on the other hand, is fun, pleasant, and almost family friendly. The comic progress at the gentle ambiance of a Peanuts strip or Calvin & Hobbes. Jokes aim for a fairly dry conclusion rather than anything wild or shocking, like a strip where Daisy recounting a dream she had about the History Channel, which ends with a very understated final panel.
Notice I said “almost family friendly.” The most risque the comic gets is a plotline where Steve gets offered some weed. Admittedly, it’s fairly tame, but, depending on your moral compass, it’s probably something you don’t want to show kids under 12.
Anyway, Daisy Owl is a highly enjoyable webcomic that always, always, always leaves a smile on your face at the end. It’s actually quite fitting that Nedroid would help promote it; both creators make cute comics that don’t come off as cloying. There’s a bit of a plot, but following it is not a necessity. This is a traditional comic strip through and through, but modernized and updated for the new millennium through fresh eyes of a creator who remembers why we loved comic strips in the first place.
Final Grade: 5 stars (out of 5).