The Webcomic Overlook #95: Legend of Bill

WCO-big-review

The Sword and Sorcery fantasy subgenre began in the mind of a troubled young Texan named Robert E. Howard. He peppered his stories with aspect of his life. Growing up in the 1900’s, he witnessed the transformation of his state from a wild frontier to industrialized oil towns. He saw the anger and loss felt by disillusioned former Confederates, still bitter about losing the Civil War. He heard myths and legends passed down by his grandmother and ex-slaves. These elements came together in stories of one Conan the Barbarian, a big bruiser from the Far North who loves lusty wenches and despises evil wizards.

After Howard, several authors followed his template. Fritz Leiber (who actually popularized the term “Sword and Sorcery”) attempted to humanized its protagonists with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series. Michael Moorcock proved that scrawny albinos built like Iggy Pop could attract an audience with his Elric novels. And Marion Zimmer Bradley proved that the ladies could be just as kick-ass in her Sword and Sorceress anthology.

Yet the genre has always been ripe for parody. I mean, we’re talking about stories where beefy dudes regularly walk around shirtless, hot warrior babes rush into battle in skimpy outfits, warriors have unpronounceable alphabet soup names like “Grignr,” and the prose is so tortured* that Amnesty International is filing formal complaints. Yet everything is taken deadly seriously, like their pulp paperbacks were King James Bibles or something. Sergio Aragonés and Dave Sim got their licks back in the day. It’s only natural that webcomics got in on the action as well.

Verily, we have already laid our eyes upon several webcomics spoofing the venerable swords and sorcery genre. Among their honored ranks are Skadi (reviewed here), Dawn of Time (reviewed here), and Gastrophobia (reviewed here). So powerful is the allure of the female barbarian that the one presented today shall mark the first, and hopefully not last, day we visit a comic featuring a lead of the male gender. For today we shall review Legend of Bill, a webcomic formed from the very fingers of David Reddick. Will Crom smile upon his efforts? Or shall he see this webcomic driven before him?

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David Reddick can best be described as a Garfield artist. This isn’t meant as some sort of scurrilous insult or an underhanded comment about his art; he actually works at Paws, Inc., which was founded as “a creative house to support Garfield licensing…. Paws’ staff of artists, writers, designers, web designers, sculptors, animators, and A/V engineers support the creativity that goes into each Garfield product, promotion, and entertainment venue.” The artistic influence on Legend of Bill, by the way, is very apparent.

Reddick is also an unabashed Trekkie. In fact, he has his own entry on the Trekkie wiki Memory Alpha. Among his webcomic projects, the guy been responsible for a plethora of Trek-related strips like The Trek Life, Rod & Barry, and Gene’s Journal. He’s even been a guest speaker at a Trek convention, truly one of fandom’s highest honors.

The man’s also worked as an editorial cartoonist, and his work has been distributed by Artizans Syndicate, Scripps Howard News Service and CNHI News Service. His art’s been displayed in galleries, and he has painted murals in Japan.

Truly, David Reddick is the webcomics version of a Renaissance Man. But let’s get back to that barbarian comic he does. If it can be called that.

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For you see, Bill is not really a barbarian. At least, not in the classical sense as an uncivilized, tribal person living on the outskirts of the Roman Empire and threatened to burn down cities for giggles. Bill, in fact, is a pretender. He starts the comic as an office worker at the local castle with big dreams of running around shirtless and wearing a kicky hat. (Also, he is also the spitting image of Peter Griffin. This little detail seriously affects my interior monologue.) One day, Bill drops his job to make his dreams come true and drags his little dragon pal, Frank, with him.

But, first things first! It’s time for a change in wardrobe! There’s a very good chance that Bill only wants to be a barbarian so he can put on the loincloth and helmet combo. The guy squeals with delight every chance he gets to don new accessories. Most of the time they’re fairly disappointing upgrades. Sometimes they get him in uncomfortable situations with the local leather-lovin’ minotaur.

Fashion isn’t Bill’s only weakness. The big guy also has a fond affection for chocolate chip cookies. He becomes an awkward schoolboy when he’s around women. These are qualities that aren’t exactly habits for highly effective barbarian, but Bill’s determined to make his dreams come true even if he’s not quite a bloodthirsty Arnold Schwarzenegger death machine.

Our Discombobulated Duo finally have a purpose when they run into the pink-haired, freckled, and scantily clad Princess Gina. She needs a bodyguard, and Bill just happens to be around. When Bill surprisingly proves himself in battle, he joins Gina as her traveling companion.

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Now, if I can sound a little sexist here: Gina’s smokin’ hot. It’s ridiculo. This is a little disturbing, since Reddick’s style makes Gina look like a character from Mission Hill. She’s got big buggy eyes, and a habit of raising her lower eye lid that makes her look look twitchy and neurotic all the time. And when she frowns, she’s got these visible chin wrinkles. You know what? It’s mad sexy. Especially since she’s running around in a chainmail bikini. Yessirree, Reddick has a gift for drawing smoking hot ladies.

Bill’s a bit pastier and he looks like he’s got a bit of a gut somtimes, but his milkshake still brings all the girls to the yard. In fact, his rugged good looks attract the attention of the Dark Queen Vasheeva. Her appearance marks the first time Legend of Bill has both a continuing narrative and a recurring villain. First, she tries to trick Bill into marrying her. Then she kidnaps Gina and switches bodies to trick Bill into marrying her. Then her ex-husband, who may or may not be Sauron, steps in to foil her plans. It’s always drama with these ladies, amirite guys?

The humor in Legend of Bill tips strongly toward the corny side. Not surprising, since it’s made by a creator who makes a living work on THE Mother of All Newspaper Comic Strips. Here’s how a typical joke goes: Bill finds a fly in his soup. He calls over the waitress, who informs him that it’s not a fly, it’s a fairy! And he’s using the soup as a hot tub! Oh ho ho! Never a dull day in … whatever fantasy land Legend of Bill takes place in.

All in all, the jokes are pretty hit-and-miss, and they greatly depend on whether or not the Sunday Morning Funnies section still amuse you. I’ve been very forgiving of corny jokes since I read Princess Planet though (reviewed here). Reddick’s humor is also slightly more risque that your standard newspaper fare, even if they don’t go beyond the “her boobs are perkier than yours” variety.

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Unfortunately, Legend of Bill suffers from an overuse of guest strips. It kills the pacing. If you’re anything like me, your mind totally zones out when a guest strip appears. One of the few times I’ll tolerate them is when they’re in Dinosaur Comics. There, it’s a refreshing change from a format that shows the same pictures every day. Guest strips, though, are a huge problem in Legend of Bill. It’s like they appear ever other strip. OK, so that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. It’s still an awful high guest-strip-to-David-Reddick-strip ratio.

I understand that David Reddick’s a busy man, what with having an actual job and putting out bucketloads of Garfield drawings. So, in a way, I do understand why he outsources strips to other illustrators. But the best thing about Legend of Bill is Reddick’s art. When I click on that “Next” button and I see something that’s not delivering on the ineffible Legend of Bill-ness, I get cranky. Embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, guest webcomic!

Is it possible for Reddick to set up a studio where teams of webcomic artists draw in Reddick’s house style to support the creativity that goes into each Legend of Bill product, promotion, and entertainment venue? ‘Cuz that would be super.

(Hint to David Reddick: see those co-workers of yours? Their art style should look surprisingly familiar.)

(Note to Jim Davis: Kidding. KIDDING! He’s alright. We tight?)

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Notes:

* – You can’t get your prose more purple than The Eye of Argon: “Grignr’s emerald green orbs glared lustfully at the wallowing soldier struggling before his chestnut swirled mount. His scowling voice reverberated over the dying form in a tone of mocking mirth. ‘You city bred dogs should learn not to antagonize your better.’ Reining his weary mount ahead, grignr resumed his journey to the Noregolian city of Gorzam, hoping to discover wine, women, and adventure to boil the wild blood coarsing through his savage veins.”

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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 August 20, 2009, in 4 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, barbarian webcomic, comedy webcomic, fantasy webcomic, spoof, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Wonderful review, El Santo. Thank you. I’m honored. I think the best things about this, and all your reviews, are the lengths you will go to add the extra tidbits of trivia, information, backstory, creator info (I forgot about the Trek Wiki at Memory Alpha!) and historical data (LOVED the beginning portion which added the varied historical look at the sword and sorcery genre and its perpetrators). Robert E. Howard. Leiber. Moorcock. Bradley. Sergio. Dave Sim. Legend of Bill. All in the same breath. Is that the sun shining in my window? Yes.

    • Well, thanks, David! I’m blushing. I felt this particular intro, by the way, was a little more useful than most: I do like how Howard did internalize things from everyday life and carved a new genre out of it. His biography has very strong implications in storytelling.

      Also, I should pass some credit (blame?) to Dawn of Time‘s Michael Stearns, who suggested I review Legend of Bill in the first place. :)

  2. Nice to see LoB get the full review treatment. Fair all in all, and I for one am glad to see the return of a full-time David Reddick at the helm of LoB. Roll on with yer bad ole reviewin’ self.

  3. I already said it on Twitter, but terrific LoB review here. A review like this is, to me, worth a lot more than a purely laudatory one. I think you were quite fair and accurate in your assessment. This is why I love reading your reviews–I can always count on honesty a true critical eye. Can’t wait to see what you pick next, El Santo.

  4. I have been reading your reviews for a while now, ever since Alex linked you from “The Meek”, a webcomic that tends towards the fantastical entertainment quoted from your interview.

    I must say, you do get around. So far I have been turned on (and off) of several previously unknown (to me) webcomics through your reviews. I am now reading a couple of LoB strips to see if I can get into it, and I agree that the humour is a little on the corney side. I prefer my humour much more raunchy, so it’s nice to know ahead of time that we’re not going to get any crude “your mom” jokes anytime soon.

    Looking forward to the next review!

  5. “I mean, we’re talking about stories where beefy dudes regularly walk around shirtless, hot warrior babes rush into battle in skimpy outfits, warriors have unpronounceable alphabet soup names like “Grignr,” and the prose is so tortured* that Amnesty International is filing formal complaints. Yet everything is taken deadly seriously, like their pulp paperbacks were King James Bibles or something.”

    This only describes bad Sword-and-Sorcery: good Sword-and-Sorcery as written by Howard, Leiber, Moorcock and the like are hardly recognizable in comparison to the dreck of the genre. For example, Howard had his beefy dudes wearing armour as often as not, his hot warrior babes wore sensible clothing, warriors have sensible names taken from history and mythology, and the prose can hardly be described as “tortured.”

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