WCO #236: Camp Weedonwantcha
I have a startling confession to make: I’m a pretty big fan of the probably cancelled NBC series Siberia. (I was also a fan of The Cape, so maybe I’m just attracted to failure.) Siberia starts off by fooling viewers into thinking that they’re watching a reality show. Contestants are dropped off via helicopter into the forbidding wilderness of northern Russia. Like all reality shows, they start things off with a silly challenge. Race to the cabins! The last two get eliminated! The trappings are familiar to anyone who’s watched TV in the last decade. There’s filmed confessionals to flesh out character personalities, alliances being formed, and mugging for the unseen cameramen.
Show’s true format and statement of intent reveals itself by the end of the first episode, though. One of the contestants is presumed dead. Brutally mutilated. It slowly dawns on the characters (and the viewers) that nothing on the show is as it seems. Slowly but surely, the safety net disappears. The characters arrived in Siberia with the assumption that, no matter what goes wrong, there’s a support team hiding just out of view to deal with the really serious stuff. Like food rations, medical care, or keeping away dangerous animals or people. Scary moments are initially brushed off as just being part of the show. The real horror creeps in when the characters suddenly realize that nobody is in control, and they are all at the mercy of whatever dark, unspoken mysteries lurk just beyond the campgrounds.
The same sense of primal eeriness permeates Katie Rice’s difficult to spell webcomic Camp Weedonwantcha. (“Weedonwantcha” is a play on words: it’s both a parody of camps that takes on Native American names and what Avengers director Joss Whedon says when he wants to pick up chicks.) The encroaching sense of desperation isn’t at the forefront, though. This is primarily a humorous comic about kids having adventures at camp. One that they seem to be unable to leave. And not because the crafts classes are super fun.
Camp Weedonwantcha was the product of a reality show. A real reality show, not a fake one like Siberia. This webcomic was Katie Rice’s winning entry for the final round of Strip Search. In the end, the contest had really come down to Katie and Abby, who drew a cutesy gothic horror comic. Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik seemed to lean toward Katie primarily because of her work ethic. She could reliably produce a strip with minimal supervision. Did they also love the story, which about pint-sized outdoorsy survivalists? Hard to tell… but Holkins and Krahulik also do a comic about li’l campers (Lookouts, which takes over Penny Arcade from time to time), so maybe.
And yes, Rice is a pro. She’s actually been doing webcomics for while now. When I went the comic’s site, it took me a lttle by surprise that this was the same Katie Rice who created Skadi. I’d reviewed that very comic a long time ago on this very site. I suppose I hadn’t made the connection because the artistic style, while familiar, is far more polished than I remembered it. “Skadi always looks like some sort of hyperkinetic doodle,” said a younger, brasher El Santo looking to break it big in the webcomic review field. “At no point does she seen three-dimensional, let alone solid. Heck, most of the art in Skadi is a rather confusing amalgam of images rendered in an unflattering color palette.”
Well, it’s five years later… and Katie Rice draws ten times nice. Many of my criticisms with the adherence to the Spümcø style have been rendered moot. Rice’s visuals feel much more her own now. I don’t know if this is just artistic maturity or the more general audiences content, which trades up gore humor for potty humor. It’s probably a little bit of both.
The main characters, Malachi and Seventeen, look like gangly dandelions with big bug eyes. They’re attractive ready-for-Cartoon-Network designs that look adorable even when being rained on by feces. It’s probably because of how Rice draws their mop tops, which look like the sort of thick yarn you find atop Raggedy Ann dolls.
The forested landscapes are rendered through an earthtone filter, recalling camping adventures of our youth. Or, I assume it does. I really didn’t go on camping trips at that age. But even more specifically, it recalls camping remembered from pop culture. That one lake at the center. The campfire ghost stories. A secluded world chopped off from all civilization.
Incidentally, a lot of pop culture visions of camping see camps less as an affirmation of personal freedom and more like trading a cradling society for a frightening boot camp where no rules make any sense. The cult video classic Psychonauts, for example, sees camp as rickety and dangerously out of date, where kids can disappear and no one asks any questions. Wait… that game also featured a bug-eyed, big-headed hero with a tiny body. Coincidence?
In the similarly paranoia-ruled world of Camp Weedonwantcha, our heroes have been trapped at the camp for at least four months. There are no adults. The only authority figure is an older camp counselor who blows his whistle a lot. There’s no food here, and the kids made do with whatever they can scavenge in the forest. Katie Rice also traffics some Lost imagery for good measure: the kids sit around waiting for some airlifted supplies to drop in and provide some temporary relief from the misery. Unfortunately, most of the supplies they get are totally useless.
There are also shades of the weird and bizarre creeping around the edges as well. There might be a feral kid called Proto Kid running around in the woods. And there might be creepy twins practicing wicked voodoo magic around the campfire. But, again, these are just fun little touches to spice up the sometimes mundane world of summer camp.
The best thing I can say about Camp Weedonwantcha is that it’s supremely pleasant. It’s a gag comic, but in the sense that the jokes don’t really make you laugh. (Well, for a cynical adult like me. I’m sure for kids of a certain age, all the poop jokes are comedy gold.) There’s a strip where a large camper named Brian plays with Malachi and Seventeen by shouting echoes into the mountain range. When it’s his turn, he says nothing. I looked at that strip wondering several times what the joke was. While I might be wrong, the silence was the joke. Not exactly the most gut-busting thing ever written, but I was a little surprised by the small smile that was on my face.
The comic is about kids living in a Lord of the Flies world (complete with a dead parachuter lodged in the trees), but never letting the fear and the darkness totally overtake them. William Golding predicted that the kids would turn out to be frightening nihilists. Katie Rice’s kids are more sunny, and maybe a little not right in the head, but to their credit they have not yet murdered each other.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
P.S. Did you hear about these kids who got stranded at camp in the middle of a spooky wilderness? It was totally in tents.
Posted on February 13, 2014, in 4 Stars, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, comedy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Camp Weedonwantcha, Katie Rice, Penny Arcade, Spumco, strip search, webcomic, webcomic review, webcomics, WPLongform. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.