Eisner Watch, Pt. 1: Bodyworld, Finder
It’s time to look at the hopefuls for this year’s Eisner Awards. The nominees this year are a motley crew. They’re an interesting group that raises many questions … mainly, “Who in the world has even heard of these comics?” Let’s just say when most people start doing webcomic blogs or podcasts, most won’t check out the comic about the plight of migrant workers. We are far, far more likely to check out that Sonic the Hedgehog pixel comic.
Which, to me, is fine. Hollywood hardly selects box office winners for the Best Motion Picture nominee list, either. Is using awards to boost the profile (or, to put it more crudely, advertise) of little-known creations the correct reason to determine who deserves to get an award? That’s probably another discussion altogether.
And then there’s the delightful content of the webcomics themselves. It looks like the Eisner committee has gone emo this year. Let’s see: one’s about rampant drug abuse, another is about hermaphrodites, a third is about a murdered strumpet, a fourth is about a mutilated migrant worker, and the the fifth switches it up a bit and stars a grouchy shut-in. Wow, webcomics… they’re not for kids anymore! (Or, more accurately, “not for gamers anymore!”) Tip for you aspiring webcomic creators: if you really want to game the Eisners, you gotta create a murder-mystery starring a shut-in hermaphrodite migrant worker who’s high on something other than life.
Remember back in the day when all we had to worry was if the winner was going to be the one about the cuddly sasquatch or the short story about rock stars who do battle in outer space?
The most positive thing I can say is that this year, I feel confident that the award won’t be presented as a second-class “also-ran” prize. Still, my faith in the laziness of the Eisner judges has not been shaken. I have a notion on who’s going to win, and once again it’s not going to boil down to overall quality.
But we’ll save that for last.
I’d originally planned on reviewing all five nominees at once. However, once this piece started crossing the 2000 word mark, I decided that it might be easier for you — and, more specifically, ME — to have this broken up into two sections. The first piece will look at Dash Shaw’s Bodyworld and Carla Speed MacNeil’s Finder. The second will take a tour of The Lady’s Murder, Speak No Evil, and Vs. It actually works out pretty well. The latter three are stand-alone short stories, while the first two are either much longer or part of a continuing series.
Ready to get your Eisner on? Let’s get started.
Bodyworld, by Dash Shaw
So Bodyworld is all like, what if we’re all like part of one global consciousness, dude? And what if, like, you let go of your rigid conformity by mellowing out, man, you would be able to share your consciousness with every other human being who let their guard down? It would be like telepathy, only on a more mind-blowing scale.
Bodyworld stars Professor Panther, a hands-on faculty member who injects himself with so many drugs that he’s got bandages running up and down his arm. The guy’s also seen with a joint in his mouth pretty much 24/7. He blows into Boney Borough, a total squaresville, to check out the properties of some phallic-looking plants. In the process, he trashes the bathroom on a train, hooks some students on to drugs, seduces a girl many times his junior, nearly burns down a hotel room, actually burns down a field, and runs afoul of the police.
He’s also our hero.
Of course, you can’t totally blame the Prof. Smoking joints is part of the work requirements of his job. As a researcher, he chronicles the effects of different plants on the human body. There are, however, some plants that deliver unforeseen consequences.
Meanwhile, a bald, scarred dude in sunglasses hangs in the periphery, popping up from time to time to remind you that is comic is more than just a stoner’s fantasy. His name is Johnny Scarhead, and he gets his own classic-comic inspired origin story. About this time, the story — which contained hints of the typical bizarreness you find in a comic about smoking hallucinogenic drugs — shifts into bizarre overdrive. The science fiction element, which had been window dressing, moves to the forefront as metaphysical concepts become more important than a drug addict’s struggle to fit in with a conservative society.
Without spoiling much, the main theme of the comic is introduced early on in Chapter Two. It’s about “Superorganism.” Basically, it’s how a colony of ants behaves more like a creature than an individual. It’s the sort of theme that’s been covered many times, from the non-fiction The Lives of A Cell by Lewis Thomas to one of the lesser known works of P. K. Dick, Galactic Pot-Healer.
The art is the sort of thing that comes to mind when you think “indie comic”… which is to say it looks like it was drawn by fourth grader. It employs simple symbolic imagery — a tiny Venn Diagram and overlapping faces being two of the recurring styles — and gets downright experimental once the characters start getting bad trips. Images devolve into nearly undecipherable chaos. Now, it’s not the sort of style that I like, necessarily … however, it was probably the only appropriate aesthetic for Bodyfinder. Art and story fit each other like Thai take-out and MSG.
As a result, Bodyworld feels like a throwback from two different eras. The art seems to be a product of the mid-80’s alternative comic trend post-Love & Rockets, while the pot-fueled ruminations feels like something out of those underground comix from the 1960’s Kitchen Sink era.
Did I like it? Now, I’m not a fan of stories that seem to be aimed for the stoner demographic. Hell, I’m one of those folks who thinks Hunter S. Thompson was slightly overrated. Yet Bodyworld works. Dash Shaw still crafts an engrossing mystery. I was compelled to keep pushing on just to find out what would happen next. Then afterward, I read Bodyworld again because the ending really did put the entire story in a new perspective. Characterwise, Shaw sets up Prof. Panther as an incredibly sketchy character initially. Yet, despite his sins, you do build up a strong empathy towards the guy. The same goes for all the people in Boney Borough, who are being manipulated by forces that can’t understand.
Out of the nominees, Bodyworld is the longest with 12 meaty chapters. It is, however, not too difficult to read since individual pages are chained together on one web page, which allows the reader to consume large chunks of content in a single sitting.
Finder, by Carla Speed McNeil
You know what’s an immediate turn-off for me? Upskirts.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve read ungodly amounts of manga. Whenever a comic resorts to upskirts, I get the dirty feeling the writer is pandering to the reader and mocking us on how ridiculously predictable we are. I mean, Men. Amirite, ladies?
Finder opens with an extended sequence of a lifted skirt. I sigh, feeling really dirty and hoping my wife wasn’t looking over my shoulder to see what it was that I was looking at on the Internet. And then the comic reverses expectations. Let’s just say testicles are involved. I’m sure some folks will find this scene hilarious. Me, I just starting to get exasperated. “Oh, Lord,” I’m thinking, “this is so not my kind of comic.”
Researching Finder later, I discover that this is a long running comic. Ms. McNeil has been working on Finder since 1996, and it’s been online in some form since at least 2005. Wikipedia includes a fairly detailed article about the series.
The series is set in a vastly depopulated Earth of a far distant future with room for numerous aboriginal cultures, both human and nonhuman, to live outside – and in varying levels of contact with – densely overpopulated city-states of recognizably modern urbanites functioning at a high technological level. Our own civilization and vastly more advanced societies following it are lost to prehistory but evidenced in the unfathomably advanced domed cities the urbanites have inherited, and the occasional pop cultural artifacts (nearly all from late-20th century America) routinely and conveniently recovered by telepathic sensitives.
Admittedly, it’s an interesting idea. It’s also a setting that wasn’t immediately apparent when reading the chapters online on the Shadowline site. There’s even a fairly good explanation for the transvestism, which I’d originally written off a merely prurient:
Jaeger’s chief acquaintances in the city of Anvard are Emma Lockhart, Brigham Grosvenor, and their three daughters, one of whom is a boy. Brigham, Jaeger’s sergeant from army days, comes from a stoic clan of cops and soldiers, but glamorous Emma’s clan self-selects for theatricality and feminine gender characteristics in both sexes.
All I have to go on is Chapter 1 of the current narrative cycle, and what’s there just doesn’t cut it for me as a story. Rachel is our star female (and she’s all girl, not a boy with implants like pretty much the rest of the cast.) She joins a parade of a drag queens. Later, she gets to hob-nob with high-society drag queens, who are old men stuffed in dresses. (The scene is as visually jarring as it sounds). Later, she gets mugged while leaving the subway. Her ring is stolen, which is played out in the next Chapter as the comic’s big MacGuffin. I won’t be reviewing that, though, since most of the content are unfinished sketches.
Finder is the sort of series that seems to be an unstoppable magnet come award time. McNeil herself been nominated for two Lulu Awards, and has won an Ignatz Award for Best Outstanding Artist. The comic itself won two Ignatz Awards (2004 and 2005) for Outstanding Series. Hence, I understand that I’m probably not getting the big picture. Maybe it does require the reader to be familiar with the mythology contained in a larger body of work.
Yet, from what I’ve seen, I can tell you that I found the art to be average and unremarkable. It’s not terrible; I think McNeil was going for an unclean feel within the confines of unchecked decadence, and it works. Yet I didn’t care too much for the character designs, the cityscapes, the compositions…. I’m sure someone with an art background could elaborate better than me. It just didn’t grab me.
I understand that there’s at least one Finder fan who reads this site. Feel free to elaborate here on what makes Finder a good comic. There’s a reason the judges awarded Eisner a nomination; I’m just at a loss as to exactly why.
TO BE CONTINUED….
Posted on May 1, 2009, in adult webcomic, alternative webcomic, dramatic webcomic, fanservice, sci-fi webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged Bodywatch, Eisner Awards, Finder. Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.